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Bill Gates envisions solar fuel ‘miracle’

|15 March 2017|


Bill Gates says developing a method to turn solar power into liquid fuel would provide one of the energy miracles he insists our planet needs.

More energy from the sun hits the earth in an hour than the world needs in a year. Battery technology is one way to store the power of the world’s premier renewable resource – when the sun isn’t shining – but making a solar fuel would be revolutionary.

“Fuels have a much higher energy density than batteries, making it far easier to use for storage and transportation. For example, one ton of gasoline stores the same amount of energy as 60 tons of batteries,” Bill Gates wrote. “Making solar fuel would be one of those (energy) miracles. It would solve the energy storage problem for when the sun isn’t shining. And it would provide an easy-to-use power source for our existing transportation infrastructure.”

Bill Gates recently visited the California Institute of Technology (Caltech) where cutting-edge research is going on in this area.

“The solution is to find a way to store the energy in the sun when it’s available. Photosynthesis takes sunlight and stores solar in chemical bonds. We should do the same thing just better, faster and cheaper than nature ever figured out how to do, in order to make a sustainable solar-driven energy system,” Caltech’s Professor Nathan Lewis explained.

The Professor’s team envisions a system where football field sized areas are used to harness solar power in a process designed to produce liquid fuel from the sun.

“You roll out artificial grass that has this bi-layer or multi-layer high performance material. And then there are drainage pipes which take out the fuel and you store that; or more likely bring it to a solar fuel refinery,” he explained.

Professor Lewis said many fuels could be made from the sun but that currently scientists “don’t have the materials in hand to do it”.

“We need to discover those materials, design them in the computer, bring them to reality by synthesising them in the laboratory,” he added.



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