December 15, 2015

'Hydricity' concept uses solar energy to produce power round-the-clock

(December 15, 2015)  Researchers are proposing a new "hydricity" concept aimed at creating a sustainable economy by not only generating electricity with solar energy but also producing and storing hydrogen from superheated water for round-the-clock power production.

"The proposed hydricity concept represents a potential breakthrough solution for continuous and efficient power generation," said Rakesh Agrawal, Purdue University's Winthrop E. Stone Distinguished Professor in the School of Chemical Engineering, who worked with chemical engineering doctoral student Emre Gençer and other researchers. "The concept provides an exciting opportunity to envision and create a sustainable economy to meet all the human needs including food, chemicals, transportation, heating and electricity."

Hydrogen can be combined with carbon from agricultural biomass to produce fuel, fertilizer and other products.

"If you can borrow carbon from sustainably available biomass you can produce anything: electricity, chemicals, heating, food and fuel," Agrawal said.

Findings are detailed in a research paper appearing this week (Dec. 14) in the online early edition of Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

Hydricity uses solar concentrators to focus sunlight, producing high temperatures and superheating water to operate a series of electricity-generating steam turbines and reactors for splitting water into hydrogen and oxygen. The hydrogen would be stored for use overnight to superheat water and run the steam turbines, or it could be used for other applications, producing zero greenhouse-gas emissions.

"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," Agrawal said.

The PNAS paper was authored by Gençer; former chemical engineering graduate student Dharik S. Mallapragada; François Maréchal, a professor and chemical process engineer from École Polytechnique Fédérale de Lausanne in Switzerland; Mohit Tawarmalani, a professor and Allison and Nancy Schleicher Chair of Management at Purdue's Krannert School of Management; and Agrawal.

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