(Left) Erik Koepf (Right) Professor Ajay Prasad standing over the solar reactor
Using hydrogen refined from natural gas for use as a power source has a fundamental flaw, the process of extraction produces carbon dioxide. This isn’t good for the atmosphere and heats up the earth like a pizza-oven (making us the pizzas!). However, doctoral student Erik Koepf, from the University of Delaware, has found a way to refine the hydrogen gas without the toxic byproduct which will help in turning down the heat on our pizza-oven atmosphere.
To accomplish the earth-friendly process, Erik designed a reactor that uses zinc oxide and concentrated sunlight that essentially kills-off the carbon dioxide, sort of like a natural filter. His reactor uses gravity to disperse the zinc oxide which is housed in 15 ‘hoppers’ located on top of a hollow cylinder (comprised of ceramic materials and insulation). Concentrated sunlight (equaling the energy of 10,000 suns) enters the cylinder from a focal point on top of the reactor that fry’s the zinc on the cylinders ceramic surface. This, in turn, creates zinc vapor, which is then turned into solar-made hydrogen when water is introduced to the vapor cloud. In theory, the byproduct left over from the zinc-oxide reaction could be used again which would make the reactor somewhat self-sustaining. That depends on how many times you could re-use it, so I wouldn’t say indefinitely. The reactor is promising, as future versions could be created on a massive scale that would give us a renewed endeavor for space exploration as well as a viable solution for electric power.