How CO2 Pollution Could Be Turned Into Solar Energy

The energy industry is going through revolutionary changes due to an increased push for clean energy technology and lower carbon emissions globally. Solar and wind power are some of the most commonly used renewable energy sources currently, with innovations constantly being developed, particularly in the solar energy space. 

Carbon dioxide generating clean energy – if those were words you never thought you would see in one sentence, then you’re not alone. But that’s exactly what researchers from GE Global Research are making possible.

Carbon dioxide is one of the largest issues contributing to climate change today, and clean energy is just one of the many solutions that scientists and climate activists hope will solve temperature rises before it’s too late. One of the most recent developments in the clean energy sector not only fights to reduce CO2 emissions, but actually uses the gas to create clean energy storage solutions. 

A new technology being developed by engineer Stephen Sanborn and his team hopes to make a new type of solar battery that is able to provide power to almost 100,000 homes. To achieve this, this new battery technology will use the largest contributor to climate change – CO2.

GE’s researchers have developed a way to transform stored carbon dioxide into storage technology for solar energy. The development will produce an entirely new solar storage technology, introduce another competitor to the recently released lithium ion solar battery technology – led by the famous Tesla Powerwall.

How does it work?

The technology has two main elements – the first involving heat collection and the second cooling the heat and storing it. The heat from the sun is collected by the same solar pv panel technology commonly used in the solar industry, the difference comes in the storage process of the captured energy.

Once collected by solar panels, the heat is stored in a liquid of molten salt. This solution is extremely hot. The liquid molten salt is then cooled by CO2 with surplus electricity to produce dry ice. The molten salt liquid then transforms the dry ice CO2 into a ‘supercritical’ fluid that is highly efficient in transferring energy into a turbine called a sunrotor.

This sunrotor can then supply stored energy as needed. Not only is this process highly efficiency in terms of energy, but also in terms of space. The sunrotor is small enough to fit on an office shelf, and will be able to power 100,000 homes.

The space efficiency of this technology is one particularly revolutionary development, as space required for some large scale renewable energy installations is one of the few drawbacks of current technologies. In addition to increased size efficiency, the sunrotor technology is also expected to bring down the cost of energy from $ 250/MWh to $ 100/MWh.

“It is so cheap because you are not making the energy, you are taking the energy from the sun or the turbine exhaust, storing it and transferring it” said Sanborn.

The sunrotor technology is also highly energy efficient; once deployed they could yield up to 69 per cent of their stored energy back to the grid. In comparison the most efficient gas power plants only produce a maximum of 61 percent energy return.