Posted in the Brattleboro Forum
#1 Apr 4, 2012
Doctoral student's novel solar reactor may enable clean fuel derived from sunlight
"9:18 a.m., April 3, 2012--Producing hydrogen from non-fossil fuel sources is a problem that continues to elude many scientists but University of Delaware’s Erik Koepf thinks he may have discovered a solution.
Hydrogen is traditionally made from natural gas. Unfortunately, natural gas is a fossil fuel that releases carbon dioxide, a greenhouse gas, when converted to hydrogen.
Koepf, a doctoral candidate in mechanical engineering, has designed a novel reactor that employs highly concentrated sunlight and zinc oxide powder to produce solar hydrogen, a truly clean, sustainable fuel with zero emissions.
His advisers are Ajay Prasad, professor of mechanical engineering and director of UD’s Center for Fuel Cell Research, and Suresh Advani, George W. Laird Professor of Mechanical Engineering.
“People have been trying for years to generate hydrogen renewably from sunlight, and Erik’s reactor takes us closer to that goal,” explained Prasad, principal investigator of the University’s fuel cell bus project, which uses hydrogen fuel to power its fleet.
A unique design
The reactor, which resembles a large cylinder, is comprised of layers of advanced, ultra-high temperature insulation and ceramic materials. It measures roughly 2 feet by 3 feet and weighs a hefty 1,750 pounds.
The conical geometry of the reactor’ design uses gravity to feed zinc oxide powder (the reactant) into the system through 15 hoppers perched on top of the device using special gears and a custom built control assembly Koepf developed at UD. Cooling blocks embedded in the structure keep the motors, a quartz window and the aperture ring, where the sunlight enters, cool.
“The idea is to create a small, well-insulated cavity and subject it to highly concentrated sunlight from above,” explained Koepf.
Koepf has been testing the main control systems for his reactor in Spencer Laboratory for months. The missing ingredient, however, has been sunlight. Beginning April 5, he will spend six weeks testing the prototype’s effectiveness for the first time at the Swiss Federal Institute of Technology in Zurich.
“We will measure the temperature and the production of oxygen inside the reactor in real time, which will tell us how much solar fuel or zinc we are actually producing,” Koepf explained.
During testing, light concentrated to simulate the energy of 10,000 suns will be focused down into the reactor, sending the temperature within soaring to over 3,000 degrees Fahrenheit, nearly one-third the temperature of the sun’s surface. Once hot, the hoppers will feed zinc oxide powder (a benign substance resembling baking soda) onto the ceramic layer, causing a reaction that decomposes the powder into pure zinc vapor. In a subsequent step, the zinc will be reacted with water to produce solar hydrogen.
“Essentially, we take zinc oxide powder and thermochemically store the energy of the sun in it, then bottle it,” explained Koepf, whose work is funded mainly through the Federal Transit Administration, a part of the U.S. Department of Transportation.“Zinc in and of itself is a very valuable fuel that can be used in batteries and fuel cells, among other things, even if you don’t create hydrogen.”
Koepf calls his research a “potentially sustainable energy path for the future” and he is working to patent his design through the University’s Office of Economic Innovation and Partnerships (OEIP).
“Doctoral students typically specialize in one area, but Erik’s reactor involves many different branches of mechanical engineering; notably fluid mechanics, heat transfer, reaction kinetics and experimental design,” Prasad said.
One interesting feature of the reactor is that, in theory, the zinc oxide byproduct created during the reaction will be re-usable, making the project self-sustaining." ...
#2 Apr 5, 2012
That is like still fantasizing and dreaming you are going to won the $700 million lottery all by yourself.
#3 Apr 5, 2012
That is my idiot test:
That is like still fantasizing and dreaming you are going to win the $700 million lottery all by yourself.
#4 Apr 5, 2012
Fantasizing about winning the lottery and doing cutting edge energy science could not be more different.
Even if this does not pan out for some reason, it will likely reveal a few more valuable pieces to the puzzle.
If your lottery ticket turns up with the wrong numbers, you are just another sucker who is out another dollar. The only value in a loosing lottery ticket is a demonstration of why lottery tickets are for suckers who overestimate the odds or superstitiously think that they can beat them.
#5 Apr 5, 2012
Really, that is un-American about the lottery tickets.
#6 Apr 5, 2012
All I can think of is how high will the price of zinc? zinc oxide rise if this becomes a so call miracle.
#7 Apr 5, 2012
All I can think of is how high will the price of zinc/zinc oxide rise if this becomes a so call miracle.
#8 Apr 5, 2012
..."One interesting feature of the reactor is that, in theory, the zinc oxide byproduct created during the reaction will be re-usable, making the project self-sustaining." ...
Do you think it will be cheaper to burn natural gas or guard nuclear waste for the next 10,000 years?
There are other ways to make batteries etc.
#9 Apr 5, 2012
Might be a good time to buy zinc futures, it would be better odds than a lottery ticket.
#10 Apr 5, 2012
That is wrong with you people, you think the huge USA with our industrialization and metropolitanization, the world leader...is going to run on batteries.
But that raises a question, like Obama energy program saying we have to developed all sources...does that mean our extraordinarily high cost and low market share sources of energy are going to set the pries on all the other sources.
So like the Massachusetts windmill project that is three times the cost of the going rate of electricity, does than mean that you can sell coal, nuclear and natural gas electricity at 3 or 10 times the cost of normal grid prices?
I mean, how far down the road do we go with this grossly obscene cost of energy that just isn't sustainable...the cost is going to kill economic growth.
Do you want a world where these energy companies are making so much profits...that all we are watching 24/7 is TV and media advertisement telling us how much their sectors are saving the world.
#11 Apr 5, 2012
Energy source development and the current price of energy are two seperate issues, attempting to limit research and implementation because you speculate that they might make the cost of energy too expensive for the average American in the future is a fool's errand.
The market will dictate the price of energy and the only way to speed development of new energy technology is to use public money.
Would there have been a Grand Coulee Dam that energized the west and won the war without public money? No.
#12 Apr 5, 2012
"The market will dictate the price of energy"...that is only a fools gold conservative idealogical rule for the 1%.
#13 Apr 5, 2012
"Would there have been a Grand Coulee Dam that energized the west and won the war without public money? No."
I like that.
Could, and what would our Interstate highway system look like if the corporations and business controlled it.
It would be a transporation system for the elites.
#14 Apr 5, 2012
There would be a lot more tolls! There has been a recent push toward this possible every road is a toll road reality by the way.
Perhaps sometime in the future we will see the value in socialized electricity again, or perhaps new technology will socialize it by redistributing generation.
Until then, the market will likely dictate the cost of electricty as the energy giants lobby for the grid to degenerate into a nationwide California style Enron scam.
Although distantly connected, quite a different problem than developing new energy technology.
#15 Apr 5, 2012
"socialized electricity again"...have would ahve to think up a new snazzy name for that baby though.
You mean distributive generation...have to look up your new phrase to me.
Distributed generation is one of the most wasteful, inconvenient, expensive and inefficient systems known to humankind and the masses.
Only a terribly broken market based system...a terribly broken regulatory and political makes a distributive generation system viable. Did I say political system?
Cooking your food on a camp fire in Somalia is distributive generation? Distributive generation is a withdrawal from modernity.
#16 Apr 5, 2012
Right, they would limit acess to the highways to the poor in order to reduce traffic jams for the 1%er.
#17 Apr 5, 2012
If you do not see the potential for distributed generation to be more efficient and less expensive, you may just lack the imagination to do so.
A very large portion of our electricity is lost in transmission alone.
Allowing energy monopolies to dictate the price of electricity has not historically made our electricity less expensive.
Large energy companies have historically refused to spend money on new technology until they think that their portfolio, or our laws demand it and will likely further impede the implementation of new technologies to protect their current investments.
You are merely speculating, badly in my opinion, when you insist that "Distributed generation is one of the most wasteful, inconvenient, expensive and inefficient systems known to humankind and the masses."
Statements like that are nothing but an uneccecary impediment to progress. Like a loosing lottery ticket, there is no value in this unwarranted speculation.
If you wish to move forward with the discussion, rather than end it, then perhaps you could tell me why you think that a future centrallized energy generation is better than distributed.
#18 Apr 5, 2012
You seem to be a anal there old buddy?
#19 Apr 5, 2012
what is that supposed to mean Mike?
#20 Apr 5, 2012
We would conserve material resources and control material speculation, and the derivatives of this get worst, by not having 300 million individual personal electric generator just a few station size generator.
The loses you speak of are only peanuts compared to the consumption and waste of material and human resource in distributive generation...
It is just a Internet type scam to boost money from you. It is a belief in ideology over facts...it is a belief in beliefs.
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