Researchers at the Research Triangle Solar Fuels Institute argue in a new paper that “solar fuels” offer a long-term means to reduce reliance on foreign oil and carbon dioxide emissions. But they also concede that there currently is “no suitable renewable substitute for oil.”

“Cheap oil and gas will continue to challenge chemical engineers to meet the economic and environmental energy predicaments of this century,” the five authors write.

“Advancements in solar fuels are needed before the technologies can compete with cheap oil and gas. All solar fuels routes should be pursued in parallel efforts, since no one knows which solution will be best and come to dominate the energy supply. Renewable-powered electrolysis is a near-term scalable solution. Other technologies such as PEC systems, solar thermal biomass gasification, and solar thermochemical cycles may be able to compete.”

Their research was published in

“Solar fuels are a long-term permanent solution to renewable fuel technologies to reduce foreign oil imports and carbon dioxide emissions,” the team wrote. But numerous challenges need to be overcome, they acknowledge.

“Although promising in laboratory and pilot scale, they possess inherent technical and economic challenges that hinder large-scale implementation,” the five said of solar fuels.

The paper examines:

  • Solar-powered electrolysis
  • Photoelectrochemical (PEC) systems
  • Solar biomass gasification
  • Solar thermochemical cycles

The authors are: James Trainham, John Newman, Christopher Bonino, Paul Hoertz and Nandita Akunuri. Their work was funded by the Research Triangle Solar Fuels Institute, which in turn is supported by Duke University, North Carolina State University, RTI International, and the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.

The paper can be read here.