HyperSolar: CO2 + H20 + sunlight = natural gas

Inspired by a model (photosynthesis) perfected by Mother Gaia, some DOE funded research on splitting water into oxygen and hydrogen and the modern marvel of nanotechnology, HYSR is breaking some novel ground.  The Santa Barbara based start-up makes good use of wastewater rather than waste good water.   The process takes any carbon rich effluent, nano particles and applies solar energy to photo-oxidize to produce H2 and clean water.  Acidic waste streams subject to the same process can produce pure Group 17 elements (e.g. chlorine or bromine) and water. 

At the center of the photo-oxidizing process is a nano particle – a self-contained programmable photoelectrochemical system – which creates an electric charge when hit by a photon.  The particle can be tuned to react with different types of waste streams. But the secret sauce is that HyperSolar doesn’t try to break water into H2 and Oxygen – an energy intensive process.  

HyperSolar uses a little energy and their nano particles to remove the more valuable H2.  By engineering the reaction kinetics the group has a process that in the presence of sunlight detoxifies waste water, producing hydrogen and clean water.  

And it does this effectively, cheaply, quickly and sustainably – the key performance metrics of the new era.

The H2 can then be combined with CO2 in a relatively cheap, highly scalable manner to produce methane at normal pressures and temperatures: 

CO2 + 4H2 –> CH4 + 2H2

Methane can be produced in simple reaction chambers of transparent materials or even plastic bags.  This opens up the possibility of creating methane gas plants in any location that has sufficient space and adequate sunlight to power the reaction.  This locally produced fuel then could be consumed locally.  Or it can be used in large installations to source gas that can then be distributed through the well established transmission and distribution infrastructure or converted into LNG for transport or storage. 

There are still some who will criticize this approach as prolonging the world’s carbon based fossil fuel addiction.  And that is irrefutable – it does prolong our use of carbon based energy.  But our approach to energy now and for the foreseeable future will be about trade-offs.  To reduce poverty, grow our economies, feed billions of people, eradicate disease, improve hygiene and generally improve the human condition requires large quantities of cheap, available, reliable energy.  This approach by HyperSolar isn’t perfect – but perfection can’t be the criteria for use.  This is as good a systems approach to energy production with little in the way of externalities or environmental degradation as you will find.  It has tremendous potential and I look forward to hearing more successes from HyperSolar as they move from the lab to the field.