The science of solar power is still in its infancy, but the technology continues to grow by leaps and bounds. Thanks to innovations like solar shingles, which allow for flexible installation on roofs, and rooftop solar parks, the practice of generating electricity via the energy of the sun is becoming more accessible to average people.
That being said, the process of converting solar energy into chemical energy still cannot happen at a rate that effectively addresses global warming. While electricity generated by solar power has reduced our reliance on fossil fuels and decreased air pollution, it has not been completely eliminated. There is still a need for sustainable and eco-friendly energy sources that can match the clean energy produced by solar power.
This, however, is changing. Thanks to scientists, engineers, and entrepreneurs, we are starting to see the development and implementation of sustainable processes to turn sunlight into more usable energy. If we examine the science of solar energy, we can see that this process is called ‘chemical recycling’.
During the process of photosynthesis, the plant converts sunlight into chemical energy that it can use to generate more organic material. Since plants are unable to move away from sunlight, they remain in contact with it for a prolonged period of time. The same principle applies to chemiosmosis, which effectively turns light into chemical energy. In this case, however, the sunlight is not consumed directly, but stored in the form of chemical compounds that can later be used to power a vehicle or device.
As we have established, photosynthesis and chemiosmosis are two processes by which solar energy can be converted into usable chemical energy. One thing we can learn from these processes is that the use of solar power can significantly reduce our dependence on fossil fuels, as well as air and water pollution. Moreover, solar energy is a renewable resource that is perpetually available.
While there is great promise in the field of sustainable solar power, there is still a lot of research that needs to be done to make the technology a reality. One obstacle that scientists and engineers are facing is the efficient and viable storage of chemical energy. Another issue is cost. Due to the high efficiency rate with which solar energy is converted into chemical energy, it is extremely expensive to capture and store it. This, in turn, puts a damper on the development and implementation of sustainable solar power.
A more recent development in the field of sustainable solar power is nanotechnology, which has the ability to significantly enhance the efficiency and effectiveness of solar cells. This development stems from the ability of scientists to create materials that have been proven to double the efficiency of photovoltaic solar cells. While there is still a lot of research that needs to be done, the potential for nanotechnology to further the development and implementation of sustainable solar power is enormous.
Once we have accepted the fact that chemical reactions can take place using solar energy, we must ask questions about which specific reactions can occur and under what circumstances. There are six general circumstances that we need to consider:
One of the first reactions that comes to mind when we think about solar power and chemical reactions is the synthesis of hydrogen. It would be a mistake, however, to assume that all chemical reactions that take place using solar energy turn into hydrogen, as there are several side reactions that can occur. Nevertheless, studies show that the hydrogen production rate using solar energy is greater than 90%. This makes hydrogen a viable fuel source for vehicles and fuel cells. Moreover, since hydrogen is an abundant and clean fuel, it is an attractive alternative to fossil fuels. Its abundance is such that there is enough available for all human needs, and its cleanliness makes it an ideal fuel source for power generation. If we were to reduce our dependence on fossil fuels, we would not only cut down on air and water pollution, but we would also eliminate the need to mine fossil fuels, which can cause damage to the environment. Finally, the fact that hydrogen is a simple compound makes it easy for anyone to understand and implement, which further reduces the chances of accidents during its transportation and storage.
Another important question to ask is whether or not the process of turning sunlight into chemical energy will cause any side effects, such as pollution. There are several research studies that have proven that the process of converting solar into chemical energy is relatively pollution-free, provided that proper care is taken during the process. Essentially, this means that the reactions that occur during the process do not harm the environment. In some cases, like photovoltaic solar cells, the process will even result in a pollution-free product. One of the advantages of solar power is that it has the ability to be clean and green. This is a direct result of the design and implementation of appropriate protective measures. Nevertheless, this does not mean that all solar power technologies are completely pollution free. This is because there is still a possibility for solar panels to become encrusted with dust and debris, which can result in increased energy loss. Nevertheless, with proper maintenance this is an issue that can be easily addressed and avoided.
Carbon Dioxide Fixation
Carbon dioxide has been called “the greenhouse gas’,” which it certainly is. Its major effect is that it traps heat within the earth’s atmosphere. As the atmosphere’s heat content increases, so does the likelihood of climate change. It has been estimated that carbon dioxide levels in the atmosphere have increased by 40% since pre-industrial levels.
Nevertheless, not all forms of carbon dioxide are created equal. While CO2 is quite dangerous, there are actually several useful compounds that can be formed using CO2 as an intermediate. One of these compounds is liquid fuel, which can be directly used in vehicles and fuel cells. Moreover, there are specific materials and catalysts that can be used to turn CO2 into valuable products, like methane and methanol. Using these products, we can effectively reduce our dependence on fossil fuels. This is why CO2 fixation is considered to be a useful application of solar power. The process of turning carbon dioxide into fuel has been referred to as ‘carbon sequestration’.
Scientists and engineers are hard at work developing materials and catalysts that can be used to effectively and efficiently turn solar energy into valuable chemicals and fuel. This makes solar power a promising sustainable alternative to fossil fuels, one that has the ability to significantly reduce our dependence on non-renewable energy sources while also minimizing our carbon footprint.