Solar hydrogen, a new system to obtain H2 more efficiently

Researchers at the US National Renewable Energy Laboratory are studying the potential of perovskites in a new hydrogen production system.


Thermochemical production of solar hydrogen, search for the perfect material.

The US government has set a clear goal for its energy research: reduce the cost of clean hydrogen from the current $5/kg to $1/kg by the end of the decade.

How? Catalyze innovation through its Hydrogen Shot program and explore new approaches and technologies.

This is where the production system studied by scientists from the National Renewable Energy Laboratory (NREL) fits in. The researchers turned their attention to a innovative water splitting technology called thermochemical solar hydrogen generation (STCH).

STCH Operation

Unlike electrolysis, which requires electricity to break down water molecules, STCH systems are based on a two-step chemical process.

In this process, metal oxides are first reduced to release oxygen, at temperatures above 1400 ºC; then reoxidized with steam at lower temperatures to produce hydrogen.

In this particular case, high temperature heat is provided by the sunwhose energy is collected by a field of heliostats and concentrated in the receiver of the first reaction chamber.

The technology has the potential to be much more energy efficient than electrolysisbut the investigation is still in its infancy.

This is a very difficult area in which there are still several questions to be resolved, particularly with regard to materials.

Zhiwen Ma, NREL Engineer

The publication evaluates the performance of various materials for solar hydrogen production in the context of a specially designed system platform to highlight the technical-economic advantages and gaps on the way to scale-up.

One of the research challenges was identify perovskites that could withstand the high temperatures required and achieve performance goals.

The material has not necessarily been found. But this analysis serves to offer some limitations as to where we think the costs will be concentrated, if the materials meet the goals and expectations that the research community envisions.

Geneviève Saur, co-author of the study.

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