Sun­light and wa­ter can fuel cars and trucks

The Witness - Wheels - - MOTORING - AL­WYN VILJOEN

THE Fis­cher– Trop­sch process is in­fa­mous for aid­ing the Nazi war ef­fort and en­abling Sa­sol to print money by turn­ing coal into fuel since 1950.

Now a group of sci­en­tists at the Univer­sity of Texas has re­fied a pho­tother­mo­chem­i­cal process for driv­ing the alkane re­verse com­bus­tion ( ARC) re­ac­tion to pro­duce the C1 to C13 hy­dro­car­bons in a sin­gle op­er­a­tion unit.

“If the process was driven by the sun to pro­vide both pho­tons and heat, a so­lar pho­tothermo- chem­i­cal alkane re­verse com­bus­tion ( Sparc) process could be achieved in one step.

“If the Sparc re­ac­tion could be op­ti­mised to pre­dom­i­nantly pro­duce liq­uid hy­dro­car­bons, and th­ese prod­ucts were de­rived from at­mo­spheric CO2, a sus­tain­able and car­bon- neu­tral liq­uid fuel cy­cle could be re­alised,” their re­port states.

In other words, they want to use fo­cused sun­light from par­a­bolic mir­rors to turn the over­abun­dance of car­bon- diox­ide mixed with wa­ter into an in­ex­pen­sive hy­dro­car­bon fuel, us­ing the in­tense heat and en­su­ing high pres­sure from the sun, The group of bio­chemists and me­chan­i­cal en­gi­neers was led by Brian Den­nis, UTA pro­fes­sor of me­chan­i­cal and aero­space en­gi­neer­ing and co- prin­ci­pal in­ves­ti­ga­tor of the pro­ject.

Den­nis said their process uses both light and heat to syn­the­sise liq­uid hy­dro­car­bons in a sin­gle stage re­ac­tor from car­bon diox­ide and wa­ter. Fred­er­ick MacDon­nell, UTA in­terim chair of chem­istry and bio­chem­istry and co- prin­ci­pal in­ves­ti­ga­tor of the pro­ject said their process also has an im­por­tant ad­van­tage over bat­tery or gaseous- hy­dro­gen pow­ered ve­hi­cle tech­nolo­gies.

“Many of the hy­dro­car­bon prod­ucts from our re­ac­tion are ex­actly what we use in cars, trucks and planes, so there would be no need to change the cur­rent fuel dis­tri­bu­tion sys­tem,” said MacDon­nell, adding their next step is to de­velop a photo- cat­a­lyst bet­ter matched to the so­lar spec­trum. “Then we could more ef­fec­tively use the en­tire spec­trum of in­ci­dent light to work to­wards the over­all goal of a sus­tain­able so­lar liq­uid fuel.”

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