The Best 3 Ways To Convert Solar Energy Into Fuel

The Best 3 Ways To Convert Solar Energy Into Fuel

The Sun is the
powerhouse of our planet. Be it the food we eat, or the air we breathe, the sun
is the janitor of it all. Accounting for minimal pollution and neutral CO2
emission, it is the cheapest source of energy available to mankind. According
to a study, an 18 day sunlight falling on the surface of our planet is
equivalent to all the energy reserves the earth possesses.

But when it
comes to Solar Energy, the most significant obstacle to harness this energy is
its stockpiling hassles. Well, the sun doesn’t shine all day long. Spare us the
occasional cloudy sky, rains, and the energy deficient winters, just few sunny
days are fruitful for harnessing electricity through Solar Photovoltaic
(SPV’s). However, it is not feasible enough to store
electricity in batteries. Hence there is an overwhelming need to unlock the
true threshold of solar energy by converting it into fuel.
Imagine an event
in the near future, when the car you drive or the heater at your home is
powered directly from the sun, or the solar energy is stored in fuel tanks and
transported to areas receiving minimal sunlight. Well, we are considering the
case, with zero CO2 emission, as it turns out, it seems too good to be true.
However, owing to the constant researches in the field, scientists have devised
several innovative procedures to harness this abundant solar energy and store
it for later use. Let’s have a look at some of the recent developments in this
field. Read On…
1.Thermo-Chemical Cycle

researchers at the Paul Scherrer Institute PSI and the ETH Zurich have come up
with an innovative alternative to convert thermal energy from the sun into
electrical energy. In simpler words, they have developed a process which can be
used to combine CO2 and water directly into synthetic fuel. This process,
developed by Ivo Alxneit and his colleagues, is fundamentally based upon a
material (read catalyst), which can be used for large scale splitting of water
with the use of thermal energy. Hence, the long term goal of storing solar
energy in the form of chemical energy can be achieved.
research can be explained on the basis of thermo-chemical cycle, which means
chemical reaction induced by high temperature conditions. The catalyst for the
reaction is cerium oxide, which when subjected to high temperature ranges above
1500 degree centigrade, initiates loss of oxygen atoms. When water and carbon
dioxide are passed over this catalyst, water gets decomposed to hydrogen gas,
while CO2 is reduced to carbon monoxide. The carbon monoxide and hydrogen can
be used further to manufacture several gaseous or liquid fuels. Hence, this
conversion minimizes the hassles to store solar energy in the fuel tank of your
car, or transport it for mass expenditure.
2. Synthetic Photosynthesis

is a field of rapid embryonic development. With rapid advents in the field, it
has come close to transform the realm of solar powered world into a reality. According
to several revolutionary papers published in 2014, synthetic photosynthesis is
the key to solve the energy inadequacy. The team of researchers led by Peidong
Yang have developed a biologically inspired completely artificial apparatus to
achieve storage of sun’s energy as liquid fuel.
research implies the harnessing of nanoscience and biology simultaneously. The two
procedures are elaborated henceforth:
Scheme 1: Use of long nanoscale filaments
first system uses nanowires to turn the sunlight received (photons) into
electrons. Later in the process, the bacteria use these ‘photoelectrons’ to
initiate complex formation of water and CO2.
Scheme 2: Using nanowires to split
this approach, nanowires generate electricity from the sunlight received, which
is further used to break water molecules into hydrogen and oxygen. Bacteria,
then act as a catalyst for the formation of methane from water and carbon
3. The Bionic Leaf
from the esteemed Harvard University have developed a ‘Bionic Leaf’ which can
convert solar energy directly into liquid fuel. This process termed as bio-manufacturing
could be a pioneering inception for innovations in this field. Initially, an
artificial leaf developed by Nocera could convert solar energy directly into
hydrogen fuel. This concept wasn’t utilized to its full potential owing to the
storage limitations. Well, we now have the required infrastructure suited to
store liquid fuel, and it is also much easier managing liquid fuel
transportation and storage, all thanks to the Bionic Leaf.
fuel source of the bionic leaf is the older version of Norcera’s artificial
leaf. A photovoltaic cell is sandwiched between two thin metal oxide catalysts.
This apparatus when immersed in water is analogous to photosynthesis. When
current is fed to the apparatus, it separates water from the constituents,
namely oxygen, in the form of bubbles, while the hydrogen is used as a fuel for
further use. When the hydrogen gas is supplied to a genetically engineered
version of a bacteria named as “Ralstonia Eutropha”, it combines hydrogen and
oxygen to release isopropanol. This compound can be used synonymously with
gasoline without any CO2 emissions. 
The present manufacturing processes, as
Nocera says, is dependent upon petroleum for fabricating rubber and plastics.
As the bionic leaf is much costlier than petroleum, using it for energy
production is not feasible at present. However, in the near future, when oil
supplies will deplete, the bionic leaf can be a great alternative.
sun is an inexhaustible source of energy. It can be harnessed anywhere across
the world and for the next 5 billion years we are not going to run out of it.
With minimal maintenance costs and constant innovation in the industry, it
turns out to be the most effective form of renewable energy. Being absolutely
pollution free, this form of energy can be used judiciously for years to come.
The current unmaintainable use of fossil fuels poses a serious threat to our
planet. However, in the coming years, if the manufacturing bases start
utilizing the solar energy to fulfil their need of energy sources, then we can
surely assure a better world for our future generations!!

Author Bio: Misha holds a
Master degree in Marketing and bachelor in computer application. She works as a
Content Manager at
She likes traveling to hill-stations and reading novels. Follow her on