Science/Tech

Scientists One Step Closer To Use Sun’s Energy At Night

Kamal Nayan
January 15, 2014 11:43 AM EST

Although solar power has been considered a viable alternative to fossil fuels, it cannot power 24-hours due to obvious natural restrictions.

However, according to reports, scientists have developed a system that converts the sun’s energy into hydrogen fuel that can be stored for later use.

“So called ‘solar fuels’ like hydrogen offer a solution to how to store energy for nighttime use by taking a cue from natural photosynthesis,” said Tom Meyer, a chemistry professor at UNC according to RedOrbit. “Our new findings may provide a last major piece of a puzzle for a new way to store the sun’s energy – it could be a tipping point for a solar energy future.”

Researchers from the Energy Frontier Research Center at the University of North Carolina have name the system dye-sensitized photoelectrosynthesis cell (DSPEC). DSPEC creates chemical fuel by using the solar power and divides water molecules into their original constituents - oxygen and hydrogen. Once the water is split, hydrogen is further isolated and stored while oxygen is released back in the air.

“But splitting water is extremely difficult to do,” noted Meyer. “You need to take four electrons away from two water molecules, transfer them somewhere else, and make hydrogen, and, once you have done that, keep the hydrogen and oxygen separated. How to design molecules capable of doing that is a really big challenge that we’ve begun to overcome.”

The entire functioning of the system depended on the use of particular molecule and a specialized nanoparticle. The molecule is called chromphore-catalyst assembly. It takes in solar energy and then starts the catalyst that draws electrons away from water molecules.

“When you talk about powering a planet with energy stored in batteries, it’s just not practical,” Meyer added, according to RedOrbit. “It turns out that the most energy dense way to store energy is in the chemical bonds of molecules. And that’s what we did – we found an answer through chemistry.”