Putting sunshine intank

Putting sunshine in the tank

3:11 PM, 6th July 2011
Putting sunshine in the tank

MANCHESTER, UNITED KINGDOM: Scientists from The University of Manchester are working on how to use the energy of the sun to make fuels, which could help to solve the world’s escalating energy crisis. Working with the Universities of East Anglia, York and Nottingham and using nanotechnology 100,000 times smaller than the thickness of a human hair, the researchers are working on harnessing the vast energy of the Sun to produce clean fuel. 

The scientists are presenting their research at the Royal Society’s annual Summer Science Exhibition on from 5th July, 2011.  

Members of the consortium at UEA have already found a way to produce hydrogen from water. A revolutionary future use of this technology could be to make the fuel for hydrogen-powered cars. Now the scientists are aiming to use the same technology to create alternatives for other fuels and feedstock chemicals, including turning methane into liquid methanol and carbon dioxide into carbon monoxide.

The sun’s potential is vast - just one hour of sunlight is equivalent to the amount of energy used over the world in an entire year - yet no one has yet tapped into its immense power to make fuels.

Professor Wendy Flavell, from The University of Manchester’s Photon Science Institute and her colleagues are working to create a solar-nano device using ‘quantum dots’ - tiny clusters of semiconducting material which absorb sunlight.

When sunlight is absorbed, carriers of electric current are created. Together with catalyst molecules grafted to the surfaces of the dots, these create the new fuel - for example hydrogen can be produced from water.

“Most hydrogen so far is obtained from fossil fuels, which are of course not going to last for ever. If we can store the energy harnessed from the sun during the day then we will have supplies ready to use when the sun is not shining. This is a first step in taking the vast power of the sun and using it to provide the world’s fuel needs,” said Professor Flavell.

“Creating catalytic devices which harvest light energy using quantum dots or photovoltaic materials  to drive the formation of synthetic fuels from water or carbon dioxide can be viewed as artificial photosynthesis,” said Professor Chris Pickett, University of East Anglia.

“Globally, chemists, physicists and materials scientists are coming together to work on artificial photosynthesis to get to a stage where we can viably make clean, green fuels,” said Pickett.

“This is the most challenging scientific project, I have ever been involved in, but it will be the most rewarding if we can bring it off. It’s no use sitting back and hoping that someone else will work out how to harness the Sun’s energy. This technology could revolutionise our energy usage in the coming decades,” said Professor Robin Perutz, University of York.

© The University of Manchester News

 

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