Ultra-high temperatures above 1200oC c=an be achieved using concentrated sunlight. Such heating can be used to drive thermal dissociation/cracking type chemical reactions where intermediate products are undesirable and where such high temperatures thermodynamically favor the desired reaction products. Two such reactions currently being investigated include the gasification/pyrolysis of biomass and splitting of water, carbon dioxide or mixtures to produce hydrogen or intermediate synthesis gas which can be subsequently reformed to fungible liquid fuels. Current research is focused on improving fundamental understanding of the process and optimal design of solar-thermal chemical reactors/receivers. Projects include CFD modeling of multi-tubular reactor systems, the evaluation of materials suitable for solar-thermal processing and the control of such processes. Solar reactors are designed and built in the lab/shop on skids and then transported to the National Renewable Energy Laboratory (NREL) where experiments are carried out on-sun at the High-flux Solar Furnace. Additional experiments are carried out at CU using electrically heated reactors. Models are being developed to complement the experiments and to develop an understanding of the reaction kinetics and heat transfer in such processes. The design and demonstration of solar-thermal chemical reactors is a key core competency of the lab, which is one of the only such locations for this expertise in the world.
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