Chinese Researchers Make Progress With Hydrogen Solar Project, Liquid Sunshine

China, which announced a net zero emissions target of 2060, has no intentions of falling behind in the next frontier of the renewables race, especially the race to produce Hydrogen using solar power. Solar powered ‘green’ hydrogen production, which has been a key focus area for many regions especially the European community area, Australia and even the middle east, as they look to find better uses for the high volume of solar power coming online, is one area. The issue at this stage is high costs and of course, ways to use the hydrogen produced in industry.  In China, researchers have demonstrated a use case for using the hydrogen to make methanol, and if convert  it back, a promising area, as methanol does have wide readily available industrial uses. In fact, rather than releasing carbon dioxide into the air, it can be used to produce methanol – an excellent fuel for cars and airplanes, using solar energy. In this case, Hydrogen is just an intermediary step.

Researchers led by professor Li Can at the Dalian Institute of Chemical Physics (DICP), an institute under the government recently claimed to have industrialized the liquid solar fuel production via the “Liquid Solar Fuel Production Demonstration Project. ”Or the “liquid sunshine” project, as they called it.

Solar power was used to power a process where  independently created alkaline water electrolysis catalysts were used to synthesize renewable hydrogen. It ended with  carbon dioxide hydrogenation catalyst being used to synthesize methanol. With solar power providing the energy for key steps, the methanol produced became “liquid sunshine.”

One of the key costs involved with green hydrogen production, electrocatalysts, (besides the electrolyser itself), broke new ground here with the  cost-effective, efficient, and long-lasting electrocatalyst for alkaline water electrolysis used here.

The production capacity of the facility was more than 1,000 standard cubic meters of hydrogen within an hour while using a single set of industrial electrolytic cells. The unit consumption of hydrogen energy was minimized to below 4.3 kilowatt-hours per cubic meter.

For carbon dioxide hydrogenation, the catalyst used was zinc oxide/zirconium oxide bimetallic oxide solid solution catalyst, which the researchers claim has been a cost-effective, high-stability, and high-selectivity option for methanol production. The selectivity of methanol increased to 98%, while the methanol content in the produced fuel increased to 99.5%. Furthermore, the catalyst was found to be highly resistant to sintering and poisoning.

The “Liquid Solar Fuel Production Demonstration Project” was made at a plant with three basic units: A solar plant to supply renewable electricity, alkaline water electrolyzer to synthesize green hydrogen, and carbon dioxide hydrogenation to produce methanol. This  methanol can be supplied to the chemical industry, or stored and used to produce hydrogen again.

With a total power of 10 MW, the solar plant supplied the electricity needed for the alkaline water electrolyzer to produce hydrogen, which was then used in the end station for hydrogenation of carbon dioxide to finally synthesize methanol. Upto 1000 tons per annum, according to the researchers. They believe this could be scaled upto over 1000 tonnes, or even 100,000 tonnes, building a strong case for the use of solar power in more energy intensive industrial processes. At the time of filing, details were not provided on whether the solar power used was a set off on grid power, or used in combination with storage to ensure steady supply.

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