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New solar machine could generate hydrogen fuel, food for your future vehicle

Darren Murph
December 26, 2010
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We're hesitant to file this one in the folder marked "Awesome Things That'll Never Happen," but it's definitely on the watch list. A new prototype solar device has been concocted to convert sunlight into fuel, much in the same way a plant does. Eco-minded folks will probably understand that conventional photovoltaic panels "must use the electricity they generate in situ," and thus, cannot deliver energy at night; this here device takes a rather unorthodox approach, using the sun's rays along with ceria (a magical, marvelous metal oxide) to "break down carbon dioxide or water into fuels which can be stored and transported." In theory, at least, the device could be used to create hydrogen and / or carbon monoxide, with the former being obviously useful for fueling up hydrogen-based cars of the future. Sadly, the existing prototype is horribly inefficient -- only around 0.7 percent of the solar energy can be converted into fuel -- but researchers are adamant that they can boost that to nearly 20 percent in time. We'll check back in a decade or so to see how things are progressing.

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