Scientists believe they have achieved the ‘holy grail’ of the green economy by designing a hydrogen production plant that can split water with sunlight.
The University of Colorado at Boulder envisages an array of mirrors that would focus sunlight onto a central tower several hundred feet tall.
The tower would heat up to around 1,350 °C – enough to liberate hydrogen from steam with the help of a metal oxide compound.
Reforming steam with an iron/cobalt oxide catalyst to produce hydrogen isn\’t new, no. I think I\’m right in saying that hydrogen is generated in steel furnaces as any residual water passes over the iron oxide that is the ore in fact. Nor is using sunlight to heat water all that amazingly new. Combining the two is interesting but it ain\’t a Holy Grail of anything at all. For this reason:
Commercialisation of such a solar-thermal reactor is only likely to happen when the economic conditions are right, claims Professor Weimer.
‘There would have to be a substantial monetary penalty for putting carbon into the atmosphere, or the price of fossil fuels would have to go way up,’ he added.
It ain\’t economic.
And we\’ve many ways of producing energy, of storing energy (which is what this is, a storage method, not a production method), that are not economic. Even if we look to the hydrogen economy we\’ve got ways of doing this that are not economic. For example, take the electricity from either solar or wind power and electrolyse water to release the H2. That might be better or worse than this method but they\’re both still uneconomic.
What we\’re looking for of course is something that is economic. And what we\’d really like is something that is cheaper, unsubsidised, without a carbon tax, than fossil fuels at which point the entire climate change problem goes away. That would be the Holy Grail….