Two of the most pressing challenges we face today are addressing our expanding energy needs and reducing our greenhouse gas emissions from the use of fossil fuels. Solar energy offers a promising solution to both challenges because of its abundance and lack of greenhouse gas emissions. However, a transformation from fossil fuels to solar energy requires efficient and cost-effective processes to collect, store, and transport our most plentiful—but intermittent—source of energy. One promising approach is the production of synthetic fuel that can harvest and store thermal energy in chemical form via high temperature thermochemical conversion of carbon dioxide (CO2) and water to fuel—allowing solar energy to be easily transported and stored.
Project Innovation + Advantages:
The University of Minnesota (UMN) is developing a solar thermochemical reactor that will efficiently produce fuel from sunlight, using solar energy to produce heat to break chemical bonds. UMN envisions producing the fuel by using partial redox cycles and ceria-based reactive materials. The team will achieve unprecedented solar-to-fuel conversion efficiencies of more than 10% (where current state-of-the-art efficiency is 1%) by combined efforts and innovations in material development, and reactor design with effective heat recovery mechanisms and demonstration. This new technology will allow for the effective use of vast domestic solar resources to produce precursors to synthetic fuels that could replace gasoline.
If successful, UMN's solar thermochemical reactor and supporting processes would help the U.S. create a sustainable, domestic fuel supply that produces fewer greenhouse gases than gasoline.
Greater use of thermal fuels would reduce U.S. reliance on fossil fuels—strengthening America's energy security.
Thermal fuel technologies will have zero net greenhouse gas emissions and can also reduce fossil fuel consumption—helping curb production of CO2 emissions that contribute to global climate change, while enabling the development of transformational technologies for a range of applications.
Thermal fuels could decrease the dependence on foreign oil imports, spurring economic growth in new thermal fuel-related industries in the U.S.