Storage Solutions

Hydrogen, sunshine and round-the-clock sustainability

Flip on a switch any time of day or night, and fossil fuel-powered electricity will give you light. But solar power is not so predictable, since you can’t get energy when the sun is down or hidden behind dark clouds.

Enter “hydricity,” a new concept that uses solar energy to generate electricity but also produces and stores hydrogen from superheated water for round-the-clock power production. It’s a potential breakthrough solution for continuous and efficient power generation, says Rakesh Agrawal, the Winthrop E. Stone Distinguished Professor in the School of Chemical Engineering and a faculty adviser with the Energy Center.

"The concept provides an exciting opportunity to envision and create a sustainable economy to meet all the human needs including food, chemicals, transportation, heating and electricity," says Agrawal, who collaborated with Mohit Tawarmalani, Professor and the Allison and Nancy Schleicher Chair of Management in the Krannert School of Management and graduate student Emre Gencer.

Hydrogen can be combined with carbon from agricultural biomass to produce fuel, fertilizer and other products. "If you can borrow carbon from sustainably available biomass you can produce anything: electricity, chemicals, heating, food and fuel," he adds.

Hydricity uses solar concentrators to focus sunlight, producing high temperatures and superheating water to operate a series of electricity-generating steam turbines and reactors for splitting water into hydrogen and oxygen. The hydrogen would be stored for use overnight to superheat water and run the steam turbines, or it could be used for other applications, producing zero greenhouse-gas emissions.

In superheating, water is heated well beyond its boiling point – in this case from 1,000 to 1,300 degrees Celsius - producing high-temperature steam to run turbines and also to operate solar reactors to split the water into hydrogen and oxygen.

The research has been funded by the U.S. Department of Energy through the DOE's Center for Direct Catalytic Conversion of Biomass to Biofuels at Purdue's Discovery Park and through a "Solar Economy" project led by Agrawal under the National Science Foundation's Integrative Education and Research Traineeship Program.

- Emil Venere, Purdue News Service

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