Electrical engineers from the University of California in San Diego is exerting efforts to build a forest made of nanowire trees which captures solar energy without tapping fossil fuels and harvest the sun’s energy to generate hydrogen fuel. The nanowires are made from materials like zinc oxide and silicon and offer a more affordable way to make hydrogen fuel for the consumption of the public.
The vertical structures and the branches of the nanotrees are essential to capturing the maximum amount of energy coming from the sun according to the engineers. The vertical structures absorbs the light compared to the flat surfaces which only reflects them.
The team compared the process to how earth’s seas and dessert reflect the sun’s rays while the forests look darker. The array of nanowire built by the team of engineers makes use of the process called water splitting via a photoelectrochemical process which separates water into oxygen and water so hydrogen gas can be extracted and used for fuel. The process has no green houses gases as byproducts. At the moment, production of hydrogen fuel still relies on the use of fossil fuels. The hydrogen fuel is a very clean fuel but the process of making it today is not clean.
The structure of the nanotrees with their vertical configuration makes most of harvesting sunlight and the team of engineers from California was able to optimize the process to get more sunlight compared to the planar configuration. The vertical structure of the nanowire trees also maximizes the output of hydrogen.
Basically, the long term goal of the team is to make a large scale artificial photosynthesis where aside from sunlight, water and carbon dioxide are also collected. The collected materials are then used to produce carbohydrates which fuels the growth of the plants. The team of engineers want to recreate this process and capture molecules of CO2 from the air so carbon emissions can be decreased and convert the material to hydrocarbon fuel.