delware environmental institute

Bottling sunlight: Doctoral student's novel solar reactor may enable clean fuel derived from sunlight

Bottling sunlight: Doctoral student's novel solar reactor may enable clean fuel derived from sunlight

Producing hydrogen from non-fossil fuel sources is a problem that continues to elude many scientists but University of Delaware’s Erik Koepf thinks he may have discovered a solution. Hydrogen is traditionally made from natural gas. Unfortunately, natural gas is a fossil fuel that releases carbon dioxide, a greenhouse gas, when converted to hydrogen. Koepf, a doctoral candidate in mechanical engineering, has designed a novel reactor that employs highly concentrated sunlight and zinc oxide powder to produce solar hydrogen, a truly clean, sustainable fuel with zero emissions.

His advisers are Ajay Prasad, professor of mechanical engineering and director of UD’s Center for Fuel Cell Research, and Suresh Advani, George W. Laird Professor of Mechanical Engineering.

“People have been trying for years to generate hydrogen renewably from sunlight, and Erik’s reactor takes us closer to that goal,” explained Prasad, principal investigator of the University’s fuel cell bus project, which uses hydrogen fuel to power its fleet.