As more and more nations are adopting renewable energy solutions in different spheres, the need to enhance its efficiency is increasing. Though solar energy is a clean and renewable source of energy, the problem with it is that its supply becomes erratic in unfavourable weather conditions. Adding to that, the efficiency of solar panels isn’t that high even when the days are sunny. It hovers somewhere around 20-23%.
To find a solution of these genuine bottlenecks, a team of scientists from Purdue University and Switzerland’s Federal Polytechnic School of Lausanne, have developed a new energy system called ‘hydricity’. Hydricity is named so as it derives energy from sunlight as well as hydrogen fuel. As Rakesh Agrawal from Purdue puts it “Traditionally, electricity production and hydrogen production have been studied in isolation, and what we have done is synergistically integrate these processes while also improving them.”
The most prevalent two types of harnessing solar energy are photovoltaic cells and solar thermal power plants. While photovoltaic way uses solar panels to produce energy, solar thermal power plants concentrate the Sun’s rays, thereby using the generated heat to warm up water and drive turbines using the steam produced. The advantage of the solar thermal power plants is that they capture more of the sun’s spectrum but the limitation is that these are less efficient than solar panels and are good when the sunlight is direct.
These reasons prompted the scientist community working in the field of renewable energy to come up with the idea of hydricity. The idea behind hydricity is improving the efficiency of both solar thermal power plants and hydrogen fuel production plants. The system that the scientists have envisaged will be an integrated one that would produce both steam for generating electricity for immediate use and hydrogen for storing it for later utilization.
The team of scientists claims that the system can produce hydrogen at an efficiency of 50 percent and electricity 46 percent (something unheard of) obtainable owing to the way the high pressure turbines can be used to run in succession of the lower-pressure ones. They claim that in a 24 hour cycle a Sun-to-electricity efficiency of 35 percent can be obtained which is a commendable number. In this process of producing electricity, the hydrogen fuel produced along with the electricity is an important factor to be considered and that is because this same fuel could be used in transportation, chemical production and other industries.
The biggest advantage is that it doesn’t degrade with repeated use and doesn’t get discharged when stored. So when the sunlight is not available, the hydrogen power can take its turn and turbines can be kept running.
Though the process is still at its simulated model stage, real-world experiments are quite near in the future. And the future does seem bright with ‘hydricity’!