SANTA BARBARA, Calif. — HyperSolar Inc., developer of a new technology to make renewable natural gas using solar power, said that its patent-pending process produces the gas using sunlight, water, and carbon dioxide.

Inspired by the photosynthetic processes that plants utilize, HyperSolar said it is developing a new solar-powered nanoparticle system that mimics photosynthesis to separate hydrogen from water. The free hydrogen can then be reacted with carbon dioxide to produce methane, the primary component in natural gas.

The company’s patent application is entitled, “Photoelectrochemically active heterostructures, methods for their manufacture, and methods and systems for producing desired products.” HyperSolar said it discloses the company’s novel low-cost manufacturing techniques, nanostructure innovations for high efficiency, and the use of sunlight, wastewater, and carbon dioxide to produce hydrogen, methane, and other chemical products.

Tim Young, HyperSolar’s CEO, said, “For almost a century, scientists have tried and failed to ‘split water’ cost effectively to produce hydrogen and oxygen. Our process does not produce oxygen (O2), which has no significant value and is an expensive and slow reaction. Unlike conventional electrolysis, where hydrogen and oxygen atoms are completely disassociated using a large voltage, we designed our reactions to use a very small voltage and only produce hydrogen (H2).

“By elegantly engineering the reaction kinetics toward hydrogen generation in conjunction with wastewater, our nanoparticles function as one-way machines that detoxify wastewater, and produce clean water and pure hydrogen in the presence of sunlight,” continued Young. “No other energy source is required, making this an extremely economical and commercially viable approach to hydrogen production — hence, renewable natural gas production.”

Unlike other approaches to hydrogen and methane production that may require high-temperature and high-pressure systems, HyperSolar said its reactions are designed to occur at normal pressure and temperature. This allows for the use of low cost and simple reactors, such as a glass vessel or even clear plastic bag. To achieve large scale operation, HyperSolar envisions acres of inexpensive reactors installed on vacant, non-productive land, producing large amounts of carbon neutral methane that can be piped into the existing natural gas infrastructure for everyday use in homes, power plants, factories, and vehicles.

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Publication date: 12/19/2011