Ecole Polytechnique Fédérale de Lausanne (EPFL) researchers have built a pilot-scale solar reactor that produces usable heat and oxygen, in addition to generating hydrogen with unprecedented efficiency for its size.
Hydrogen production from water using solar energy is referred to as artificial photosynthesis, but the LRESE system is unique for its ability to also produce heat and oxygen at scale.
In the process heat is also generated, but instead of being released as a system loss, this heat is passed through a heat exchanger so that it can be harnessed.
The system could be used to provide residential and commercial central heating and hot water, and to power hydrogen fuel cells.
Sophia Haussener, head of the Laboratory of Renewable Energy Science and Engineering (LRESE) in the School of Engineering started at the beginning, “This is the first system-level demonstration of solar hydrogen generation. Unlike typical lab-scale demonstrations, it includes all auxiliary devices and components, so it gives us a better idea of the energy efficiency you can expect once you consider the complete system, and not just the device itself. With an output power of over 2 kilowatts, we’ve cracked the 1-kilowatt ceiling for our pilot reactor while maintaining record-high efficiency for this large scale. The hydrogen production rate achieved in this work represents a really encouraging step towards the commercial realization of this technology.”