TNO and Hasselt University (Belgium) have developed an innovative method which uses sunlight to power chemical processes directly. The two organizations succeeded in converting CO2 into methane fuel at a low temperature and using only sunlight as a sustainable energy source. The photon-to-methane efficiency is exceptionally high, namely 55%. This innovation could contribute simultaneously to the transition from fossil fuels to sustainable energy sources, and to the reduction of CO2 emissions.
The results were published in a scientific article by Professor Pascal Buskens (TNO and Hasselt University), Professor Marlies Van Bael (Hasselt University), and their team.
Exceptionally high efficiency
The results obtained by the researchers are remarkable in that sunlight was used to convert an unwanted waste product, namely CO2, into methane, which is a useful fuel – using 55% of the energy in the sunlight. This is an exceptionally high level of energy efficiency. Conventional photocatalysts generally employ only the ultraviolet component of sunlight, which means that most of the light energy remains unused and overall efficiency is much lower. Using the concept developed by TNO and Hasselt University, methane is produced using only solar energy and at a low temperature and pressure.
This method makes it possible to produce chemical products and fuels in a very efficient way using only sunlight as a sustainable energy source. Future research will examine whether pharmaceutical products or syngas, for instance, could also be produced in this way. Syngas is already in widespread use as an intermediate in conventional chemical processes.
The research results were achieved within the framework of the EnOp project (Interreg V programme Flanders – the Netherlands). Both research groups intend to continue collaborating on the development of a suitable reactor for this kind of photochemical process.