Double-duty device aims to generate electricity from sunlight while reducing nitrous oxide pollution

This dual-force technology has a long way to go before it can reach its full potential, but holds tremendous promise in protecting the planet from the bad effects of ozone layer depletion.

Nitrous oxide is a potent greenhouse gas and ozone-layer depleting compound, and each year humans are responsible for releasing millions of tons of it into the air.

Recently, an international group of chemical engineers suggested an innovative strategy for reducing nitrous oxide levels globally: Partner an electricity-producing system known as a solar chimney power plant (SCPP) with reactive glass that can decompose nitrous oxide from the atmosphere into nitrogen and oxygen.

An SCPP is composed of a low canopy at the base for collecting air and absorbing sunlight, a tall hollow tower to control the release of clean air, and turbines that generate electricity.

Courtesy de Richter, R., Ming, T., et al. “Removal of non-CO2 greenhouse gases by large-scale atmospheric solar photocatalysis.” Progress in Energy and Combustion Science 60 (2017): 68-96.

The researchers propose layering the solar chimney’s canopy area with glass plates coated with titanium dioxide, a product found in things like paint, sunscreen and food coloring that can use light to break down nitrous oxide.

Because titanium dioxide is self-cleaning, non-toxic, cheap and stable, the report suggests, the result would be a sustainable and low-maintenance option for reducing nitrous oxide pollution while also producing power.

This dual-force technology has a long way to go before it can reach its full potential.

For example, more research needs to be done on the ideal volume of titanium dioxide and the best temperature for reducing nitrous oxide in the atmosphere and producing solar electricity in a relatively cost-effective way.

For more details, read the full study here.

This article was written by Haley Madderom and republished with permission from Ensia.com

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