Researcher’s new solar reactor uses unique mirror to harvest the sun

Autore: ExtremeTech

The Sun, roughly 93 million miles away, is what powers everything for us on Earth in one way or another. Unfortunately, we haven’t been very good at efficiently using its vast amounts of energy. Coal and oil work as decent energy sources, but if we could cut out the middle man to get hydrogen directly from sunlight on a meaningful scale, humanity would have it made. That’s what Erik Koepf, a doctoral candidate at the University of Delaware, is working on. His solar reactor project produces hydrogen from a chemical reaction causing sunlight to split water, but its efficiency is still unknown. In March, he’ll be traveling to Zurich, Switzerland to test the reactor at full power for the very first time. From there, we’ll be able to see if this solar reactor will serve as a stepping stone to better solar technology, or if it’s a complete dud.

This reactor uses zinc oxide powder on a ceramic surface that is then exposed to massive amounts of focused sunlight. From there, a thermochemical reaction happens that splits water apart into oxygen and hydrogen. It sounds rather complex at first, but it’s beautifully simple in a way — using the Sun’s effectively infinite power to do the heavy lifting for us. No greenhouse gases are being produced, so this is an environmentally friendly power solution. Better yet, this line of research has the potential to make renewable and reliable energy a reality. That means no more bending to the whims of OPEC.

Close-up of a solar flare To get the reaction needed for everything to work properly, the reactor needs to get unbelievably hot. The thermometer needs to hit between 1750° to 1950° Celsius (3182° to 3542° Fahrenheit), so it will need a lot of concentrated sunlight. A mirror that fits the needs of this project just didn’t exist, so Koepf and his research associate Michael Giuliano had to develop their own. This inch-thick water-cooled 45-inch by 45-inch mirror is flawlessly flat and 98% reflective. Effectively, this system focuses the solar energy into a tiny six centimeter circle that has to be precisely aimed. If the light is just a millimeter or two off to one side, the entire reactor could be damaged. Considering this ton-and-a-half monster has to be moved back and forth from the US to Switzerland, nobody wants to have to go back to the drawing board.

The first tests were successful in creating small amounts of hydrogen, but the real test is happening next month when the system will be running at full bore. While expectations are obviously quite high, it’s still too early to know how effective this reactor will end up being. “We want to analyze the reactor under different conditions to determine how our production rates vary under different levels of zinc oxide dispersal, temperatures and flow patterns,” says Koepf. This single project isn’t the be-all and end-all of solar power, but it is promising. In the coming decades, we’ll have to stop labeling solar power as “alternative power,” and start thinking of it as our best way forward.

Research paper available in the International Journal of Hydrogen Energy (September 19, 2012)

Now read: Norwegians trap sunlight with microbeads, produce solar cells that are 20 times thinner, cheaper

[Image credit: NASA Goddard Space Flight Center]

9 thoughts on “Researcher’s new solar reactor uses unique mirror to harvest the sun

  1. Per Natale vorrei prendermi Rune Factory 2:A Fantasy Harvest Moon.
    Ora vi spiego meglio,io sono andato sul sito della Gamestop ma non lo trovato e potreste chiarirmi anche un mio dubbio?Nei negozi questo gioco è in italiano?Dove lo posso trovare?
    Grazie a chi mi risponderà.
    Ciao.

  2. Salve, ho notato che in diversi trailer compare la frase “remember Reach, where is all begun”, o qualcosa di simile; tradotto significa “ricorda Reach, dove tutto ebbe inizio”. La mia domanda è: ma non ebbe tutto inizio su Harvest? La guerra non comincia quando un nave covenant vetrifica una parte di questo pianeta?

  3. Ciao a tutti vorrei sapere se conoscevate qualche videgioco simile a Flower, o perlomeno che sia un videogioco in contatto con la natura tipo harvest moon. Grazie

  4. a e se e possibile anche di harvest moon,ma deve essere compatibile con il nintendo wii…grazie…
    scuzate ho scritoo wii..che scema volevo dire 2i

  5. Ciao :D
    Sto giocando ad Harvest Moon, la seconda edizione, e sono sposata da almeno un anno. Mi avevano detto che dopo due stagioni circa, si poteva avere il bambino, ma sul mio gioco non è successo niente. perchè?
    Grazie in anticipo

  6. c’è un gioco su face che ho visto da un mio amico,e mi piace moltissimo! so che una parola è harvest,ma non so il resto… lo scopo del gioco è quello di raccogliere minimo tre carote in fila per guadagnare punti… come si chiama questo gioco

  7. Buon pomeriggio….
    Ho un brutto problema. Hanno rubato il telefono a mia sorella http://img.cellular-news.com/story/36025/Samsung_Shows_Off_Solar_Powered_TouchScreen_Phone_1.jpg

    A me dispiace tantissimo,anche perchè era un regalo che i miei genitori le avevano fatto rinunciando a molte cose (x natale),ma soprattutto ho dovuto rinunciare anche io a parecchie cose (anche se io non ho mai avuto nnt,ho un LG U890, vecchissimo mentre lei ha già cambiato 3 cellulari,bellissimi e nuovissimi)

    Il furto è avvenuto nella stazione della circumvesuviana,non c’era nessuno,quindi non potevano neanche urlare per chiedere aiuto. Cosa bisogna fare per cercare di riavere indietro il telefono?
    Senza commenti stupidi o insensati,grazie -___-”

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