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Duke University Creates Solar to Hydrogen Hybrid System

Solar Hydrogen HybridDuke engineer Nico Hotz believes that rooftop solar panels as they stand now are under-utilized. Hotz proposes a new solar hybrid system that creates hydrogen that can be run through a fuel cell and create electricity any time it is needed.

According to Duke University, “Instead of systems based on standard solar panels, Duke engineer Nico Hotz proposes a hybrid option in which sunlight heats a combination of water and methanol in a maze of glass tubes on a rooftop. After two catalytic reactions, the system produces hydrogen much more efficiently than current technology without significant impurities. The resulting hydrogen can be stored and used on demand in fuel cells.”

According to Hotz, “The hybrid system achieved exergetic efficiencies of 28.5 percent in the summer and 18.5 percent in the winter, compared to 5 to 15 percent for the conventional systems in the summer, and 2.5 to 5 percent in the winter.”

The combination of small copper tubes, aluminum and aluminum oxide plus catalytic nanoparticles allows this rooftop solar energy system to absorb up to 95-percent of the sunlight that falls on the panels. The hydrogen that is produced may be used immediately in a fuel cell or compressed and stored for night use. Or, I dare say, if one has a hydrogen car in one’s garage it is conceivable that someday this system could be modified for home refueling use as well.

Assistant professor Hotz has given us a new way to think about solar to hydrogen applications and how traditional solar panel systems may not be as efficient as a hybrid system such as Nico Hotz is proposing.

About Hydro Kevin Kantola

Hydro Kevin Kantola
I'm a hydrogen car blogger, editor and publisher interested in documenting the history and the progression of hydrogen cars, vehicles and infrastructure worldwide.

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2 comments

  1. I wonder if I could replace my solar cells with glass tubes filled with the catalyst? My solar panel rusted out despite extensive precautions to prevent that.

    I’m interested in how the methanol is involved.

    My folks have natural gas, so while this hybrid system is exciting, a better solution for us for now would be to reform natural gas.

    I’ve been looking at natural gas generators, something way down the road perhaps. A fuel cell and methane reformer would be better though. PEM fuel cells typically combine hydrogen with oxygen. Okay, why not combine the hydrogen with the carbon that is produced after methane is cracked to create a nearly closed cycle? Cracking methane that would end up in the atmosphere anyways would at least be carbon neutral.

    This is exciting, but will Dr Hotz take it up a notch and pursue commercialization? If so, when?

  2. Definitely believe that which you said about solar and hydrogen energy. Your favourite justification appeared to be at the net the simplest thing to be aware of. I say to you, I certainly get annoyed at the same time as people consider hydrogen or solar info that they just don’t know about. Thank you

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