Hydrogen is easy to produce and exists in great abundance, but isolating hydrogen in a cost effective and sustainable way is the big question mark that has people scratching their heads. Whether powering a fuel cell, functioning as a fuel additive, or in any of its many other industrial applications, the trick with hydrogen is to produce it in a way that doesn’t require more non-renewable energy than is embodied in the end product. Solar has always been an intriguing solution—joining the abundant energy of the sun with the abundance of hydrogen seems like a natural fit.
Solar Hydrogen Energy’s solar-powered unit positions a chemical reactor over a parabolic mirror that concentrates sunlight to create temperatures exceeding 1,500 degrees Fahrenheit (a working prototype is pictured above). An iris at the opening of the reaction chamber modulates the incoming sunlight. The company reports that the reactors have the ability to produce hydrogen from waste gas such as methane, as well as from plain water.
A variety of technologies harness the sun with mirrors to do things like focus light on solar cells, run Sterling engines, or even roast coffee, but few if any use the concentrated energy to fuel the reaction that produces hydrogen. The proposed installation at the Regina landfill would consist of 30 such units, and is estimated to reduce 25% of the city’s greenhouse gasses, bringing it close to meeting Kyoto standards with the single facility. When fully operational, the array would create over 2.6 million lbs of hydrogen per year and dramatically reduce carbon dioxide and smog-forming emissions released from the landfill. A $6 million dollar demonstration project is already getting approval from local government and would pave the way for the full-scale facility. It remains to be seen if the project in Regina will set the standard for sustainable hydrogen production. It may not be quite as dramatic as capturing lightening with lasers, but at least we wouldn’t have to wait so long between thunderstorms. :: Solar Hydrogen Energy Corporation Ltd.