Solar Systems of Hawthorne in Victoria, Australia is developing the country’s first and perhaps even the world’s first direct solar to hydrogen commercial power plant. This $60 million project will either be part of the larger $450 million Mildura solar power station that is currently being built and scheduled to start operation in 2010 or a separate demonstration project built near Bridgewater.
According to theage.com, Solar Systems found John Lasich has made a breakthrough in technology that will enable this process, “Electrolysis is used to break down water into hydrogen and oxygen, but present technology is quite inefficient, even using solar power. At room temperature every 100 watts of electricity produces just 60 watts of hydrogen. Mr. Lasich’s technique heats the water to 1000 degrees Celsius, a temperature at which the process delivers 140 watts worth of hydrogen for every 100 watts of electricity.”
The direct solar plant will create hydrogen from water during the day and then use the hydrogen at night by running it through a fuel cell to produce power. By heating water to 1000 degrees Celsius, the hydrogen and oxygen bond is more easily cracked than at ambient temperatures.
Even though this may be the world’s first direct solar to hydrogen plant, there has also been some R&D elsewhere in the world worth noting on this subject. For instance, in Germany, researchers have discovered that a certain semiconductor will help crack the hydrogen and oxygen bond of water. In addition, researchers in Massachusetts and Pennsylvania have both developed novel ways to break the water bond using direct solar energy.