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UNC researchers harness sun's energy during day for use at night
Date:1/14/2014

Solar energy has long been used as a clean alternative to fossil fuels such as coal and oil, but it could only be harnessed during the day when the sun's rays were strongest. Now researchers led by Tom Meyer at the Energy Frontier Research Center at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill have built a system that converts the sun's energy not into electricity but hydrogen fuel and stores it for later use, allowing us to power our devices long after the sun goes down.

"So called 'solar fuels' like hydrogen offer a solution to how to store energy for nighttime use by taking a cue from natural photosynthesis," said Meyer, Arey Distinguished Professor of Chemistry at UNC's College of Arts and Sciences. "Our new findings may provide a last major piece of a puzzle for a new way to store the sun's energy it could be a tipping point for a solar energy future."

In one hour, the sun puts out enough energy to power every vehicle, factory and device on the planet for an entire year. Solar panels can harness that energy to generate electricity during the day. But the problem with the sun is that it goes down at nightand with it the ability to power our homes and cars. If solar energy is going to have a shot at being a clean source for powering the planet, scientists had to figure out how to store it for night-time use.

The new system designed by Meyer and colleagues at UNC and with Greg Parsons' group at North Carolina State University does exactly that. It is known as a dye-sensitized photoelectrosynthesis cell, or DSPEC, and it generates hydrogen fuel by using the sun's energy to split water into its component parts. After the split, hydrogen is sequestered and stored, while the byproduct, oxygen, is released into the air.

"But splitting water is extremely difficult to do," said Meyer. "You need to take four electrons away from two water molecules, transfer them somewhere else, and make hydrogen, and, once you have done that
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Contact: Thania Benios
thania_benios@unc.edu
919-962-8596
University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill
Source:Eurekalert  

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