A professor at Duke University has developed an innovative solar energy system that powers buildings with hydrogen. The system, though it looks like a solar array, is made up of thousands of coiled copper tubes coated with a thin layer of aluminum and aluminum oxide and filled part-way with catalytic nanoparticles. A mixture of water and methanol is rushed through the tubes, and as it heats up and evaporates a catalyst is added to create hydrogen. The system is more efficient than any currently on the market, and the hydrogen created can be stored in a pressurized chamber to be used whenever needed.

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This set-up allows up to 95 percent of the sunlight to be absorbed with very little being lost as heat to the surroundings,” said the system designer Duke engineer Nico Hotz. “This is crucial because it permits us to achieve temperatures of well over 200 degrees Celsius within the tubes. By comparison, a standard solar collector can only heat water between 60 and 70 degrees Celsius.” The super efficient hydrogen-solar hybrid system can then take its product and use it in a hydrogen fuel cell or store it for future use. No energy is lost, as might be in a solar array that produces too much energy for a home to use.

The system produces hydrogen efficiently due to its high temperatures and the added catalyst. To power an average home during the summer time Hotz and his team believe an installation would cost $7,900, much more than a regular fossil fuel generator. However, that price is much lower than a renewable energy generator that can store excess electricity. The team would need to bring the costs down in order to make the system cost-efficient at powering a home in the winter.

Via Science Daily