Duke 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.