Solar chemical

Solar chemical processes use solar energy to drive chemical reactions. These processes offset energy that would otherwise come from a fossil fuel source and can also convert solar energy into storable and transportable fuels. Solar induced chemical reactions can be divided into thermochemical orphotochemical. A variety of fuels can be produced by artificial photosynthesis. The multielectron catalytic chemistry involved in making carbon-based fuels (such as methanol) from reduction of carbon dioxide is challenging; a feasible alternative is hydrogen production from protons, though use of water as the source of electrons (as plants do) requires mastering the multielectron oxidation of two water molecules to molecular oxygen. Some have envisaged working solar fuel plants in coastal metropolitan areas by 2050- the splitting of sea water providing hydrogen to be run through adjacent fuel-cell electric power plants and the pure water by-product going directly into the municipal water system.
Hydrogen production technologies been a significant area of solar chemical research since the 1970s. Aside from electrolysis driven by photovoltaic or photochemical cells, several thermochemical processes have also been explored. One such route uses concentrators to split water into oxygen and hydrogen at high temperatures (2300-2600 °C). Another approach uses the heat from solar concentrators to drive the steam reformation of natural gas thereby increasing the overall hydrogen yield compared to conventional reforming methods. Thermochemical cycles characterized by the decomposition and regeneration of reactants present another avenue for hydrogen production. The Solzinc process under development at the Weizmann Institute uses a 1 MW solar furnace to decompose zinc oxide (ZnO) at temperatures above 1200 °C. This initial reaction produces pure zinc, which can subsequently be reacted with water to produce hydrogen.
Sandia's Sunshine to Petrol (S2P) technology uses the high temperatures generated by concentrating sunlight along with a zirconia/ferrite catalyst to break down atmospheric carbon dioxide into oxygen and carbon monoxide (CO). The carbon monoxide can then be used to synthesize conventional fuels such as methanol, gasoline and jet fuel.
A photogalvanic device is a type of battery in which the cell solution (or equivalent) forms energy-rich chemical intermediates when illuminated. These energy-rich intermediates can potentially be stored and subsequently reacted at the electrodes to produce an electric potential. The ferric-thionine chemical cell is an example of this technology.
Photoelectrochemical cells or PECs consist of a semiconductor, typically titanium dioxide or related titanates, immersed in an electrolyte. When the semiconductor is illuminated an electrical potential develops. There are two types of photoelectrochemical cells: photoelectric cells that convert light into electricity and photochemical cells that use light to drive chemical reactions such aselectrolysis.
A combination thermal/photochemical cell has also been proposed. The Stanford PETE process uses solar thermal energy to raise the temperature of a thermionic metal to about 800C to increase the rate of production of electricity to electrolyse atmospheric CO2 down to carbon or carbon monoxide which can then be used for fuel production, and the waste heat can be used as well.

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