Thursday, December 23, 2010

Liquid Fuels Made By Sunlight

On The Horizon: Liquid Fuels Made By Sunlight

Matt Cardy/Getty Images: Solar panels like these in England turn energy from the sun into electricity. But researchers are looking to capture the sun's energy to make liquid fuels for cars and trucks, by combining carbon dioxide, water and the chemical element cerium.

December 23, 2010 - Sunlight pours a lot of energy onto the surface of the Earth. But one huge challenge is to figure out how to capture that energy and turn it into fuels to power our cars and trucks.

Fossil fuels won't last forever, so scientists and engineers are looking for new and efficient ways to capture solar energy for fuel. One promising technique relies on a common material most people have never heard of: the element cerium.

Cerium "is chemically similar to what we call the rare earth metals, but it turns out not actually to be rare," says Sossina Haile, a professor of materials science and chemical engineering at Caltech. It's about as abundant as copper, and is quite useful.

Haile has been experimenting with cerium because, at the right temperature, it can turn carbon dioxide and water into energy-rich fuels. {continued and listen to report}

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