News FocusSolar Fuels

Sunlight in Your Tank

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Science  11 Dec 2009:
Vol. 326, Issue 5959, pp. 1472-1475
DOI: 10.1126/science.326.5959.1472

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Summary

Researchers are attempting to reverse the combustion of fossil fuels, using sunlight to reenergize molecules from thin air (or water) to make fuels that can then be used anytime, anywhere. At a recent meeting, researchers discussed the technical challenges with their solar chemical reactors, including finding materials that can withstand the high temperatures generated, boosting the speed at which the catalysts work, and keeping the windows on the reactors clean so the focused sunlight can stream in. The good news is that the technology has been shown to work on a small scale, producing tens to hundreds of liters of energy-rich gases per hour. And a simpler version of the technology is already close to market (see sidebar). But there's bad news, too. For now, the process is costly and unlikely ever to compete with producing gasoline from fossil fuels without a price on carbon emissions.