Al Weimer, a professor at the Department of Chemical and Biological Engineering, headed the team. According to Kent Warren, a research associate in Chemical and Biological Engineering and one of the lead authors of the recent study, a potential future scenario involves the availability of various fuel options at gas stations, such as unleaded, super unleaded, ethanol, and an additional option known as solar fuel. Solar fuel would be derived from sunlight, water, and carbon dioxide. The objective is for the product to be economically competitive with conventional fuels derived from natural sources.

Historically, engineers have usually employed the process of electrolysis to generate hydrogen gas, which involves the application of electricity to dissociate water molecules into hydrogen and oxygen gas. In contrast, the team employs a “thermochemical” methodology that utilizes solar radiation-induced heat to accomplish the aforementioned chemical processes. In addition, the techniques employed have the capability to cleave carbon dioxide molecules extracted from the environment, resulting in the generation of carbon monoxide.

Previous scientific studies have demonstrated the feasibility of this method for generating hydrogen and carbon monoxide. However, concerns have been raised regarding its efficiency, which may hinder its economic viability for syngas production. The researchers in the recent work showcased their ability to perform these reactions at high pressures, utilizing iron-aluminate compounds that are readily available and cost-effective on our planet. The increased pressures facilitated a production increase of hydrogen by more than two-fold for the team.

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