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Clean Power CalTech researchers develop concentrating solar tech based on self cleaning oven

Published on January 20th, 2011 | by Tina Casey


Self Cleaning Oven Sparks a Solar Power Breakthrough

January 20th, 2011 by  

CalTech researchers develop concentrating solar tech based on self cleaning ovenResearchers at the California Institute of Technology are developing a reactor that can convert carbon dioxide and water into fuel using solar energy, and the whole thing is based on the same stuff that makes a self-cleaning oven work its magic. It’s a simple concept that could lead to low cost fuel cells and other forms of clean, renewable energy. So who could hate it, right? Well, read on…

Self Cleaning Ovens and Solar Power

The key to self-cleaning ovens is a metal oxide called ceria. As described by CalTech writer Kathy Svitil, ceria can “exhale” oxygen at very high temperatures and then “inhale” it back at lower temperatures. In a self cleaning oven, that’s the process that breaks down grease and other foods. The CalTech researchers built a two-foot prototype lined with ceria that concentrates the sun’s rays. It acts like a sort of super-sophisticated solar cooker. When carbon dioxide or water is pumped into the reactor, the inhaled oxygen is removed from these molecules. That leaves hydrogen, which can be used to power fuel cells. With a little extra tinkering you can also get synthetic gas or methane from the reaction.

Fuel Cells, Solar Power and American Energy

This new breakthrough in renewable energy lends a bit of irony to the latest words of wisdom from a somewhat overexposed television personality (okay, so Newt Gingrich), who just yesterday claimed that the Obama administration is “waging a war on American energy.” Given that the “American energy” under discussion was oil, I suppose it’s reasonable to infer that by extension, solar, wind, geothermal and all the other forms of alternative energy are un-American (or at least, less American). The real irony is that when you consider the damage done by the Gulf oil spill, it seems that “American energy” is waging a war on us and not the other way around.

American Energy and Green Jobs

This lumping of energy into “American” and other-than-American gets pretty ridiculous when you consider all those new solar installations at U.S. military facilities. What are they, exactly? Unpatriotic?  That reminds me of a similar statement made by an equally overexposed personality (okay, so you-know-who), who once singled out “the real America” for authenticity, leaving large chunks of the country drifting in limbo. Or maybe I’m being a little too sensitive. Who listens to these people anyways?  Sometimes Snookie makes more sense. The important thing is that out here in the real world, the Obama administration has proven to be a powerful ally for American innovators, investors and business owners who are driving the creation of green jobs not only in emerging new technologies, but also in the steel industry and other traditional manufacturing sectors.

Image (cropped): Self cleaning oven by soopahgrover on flickr.com.

(post updated for formatting) 


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About the Author

specializes in military and corporate sustainability, advanced technology, emerging materials, biofuels, and water and wastewater issues. Tina’s articles are reposted frequently on Reuters, Scientific American, and many other sites. Views expressed are her own. Follow her on Twitter @TinaMCasey and Google+.

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