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Swiss Solar Hydrogen Company in Agreement With Spanish Power Generation Company

A CHP solar concentrator and furnace unit. The furnace is at the end of the arm.

Clean Hydrogen Producers (CHP), an early stage company based in Switzerland, has signed an agreement with Grupo Ibereólica, a multi-national alternative energy company based in Madrid, Spain, outlining the planning, permitting and appraisal of CHP’s Solar Water Cracker technology in Spain and Mexico.

The CHP Solar Water Cracker is a system which concentrates sunlight to heat a furnace to the point where it splits water into hydrogen and oxygen. The hydrogen can be sold or run through a fuel cell to generate energy. This energy can then be sold back to the grid.

The pre-sale agreement details terms that grants Ibereólica an exclusive license right to promote, install and manage solar energy plants in Spain and Mexico, using the CHP Solar Water Cracker, for a period of 20 years. CHP has received a non-refundable prepayment for the license of €500,000 (US$674,000) and this will be booked as revenue by CHP.

While materials with melting points well above 3,000°C have long been known, compounds that can be used to build a high-temperature thermal reactor, and the necessary filters for gas separation, are relatively recent developments, according to CHP, which is focused on developing the requisite hydrogen filters.

Diagram of the CHP furnace. The sunlight is concentrated into the furnace (red), where a focal point (or beam) of sunlight is created, and, in which steam circulates. This focal point of sunlight (yellow) reaches a temperature of approximately 2,200° Celsius, allowing the H2O molecule to crack in that vicinity. At the optimal distance from the focal point, CHP’s ceramic tubes are placed (light blue), in order to filter out the hydrogen. The oxygen filters (dark blue) are at a further distance. Click to enlarge.

CHP’s standard solar concentrator has a combined mirror surface area of 93 m2. It concentrates sunlight 10,000 times onto a focal point to heat a furnace to an internal temperature of 2,200°C.  Above 1,700°C, the water molecules start to crack. At 2,200°C, an optimal portion of the molecules of water have cracked into hydrogen and oxygen and can be filtered out by the proprietary ceramic filters and technology lodged in its furnace.

The company estimates that on a standard day of 6.5 hours of sunlight (6.5 kWh/m2/day), one standard 93 m2 solar concentrator will enable to concentrate enough energy to crack 94.9 liters of water into hydrogen or oxygen, producing approximately 3,800 kg of gaseous hydrogen over 12 months (about 10.4 kg per day).

The working volume for one of these furnaces is 150 liters in volume, roughly one quarter the size of a standard Stirling engine used for power generation with solar concentrators. The furnace also has no moving parts and is much lighter.

The agreement represents a significant breakthrough for CHP. In addition to providing a revenue injection, collaboration with Ibereólica will accelerate the process leading to production of fully operational solar energy units utilizing the Solar Water Cracker.

Ibereólica, founded in 1999, is an established provider of wind energy. Its three wind farms in Zamora and its share in Parque Eolico El Moral are forecast to produce 300 million kWh of electricity in 2007, and Ibereólica has a further 800MW in promotion in Spain and overseas. In Solar energy, Ibereólica has 14 power plants of 50MW each under permitting.

We believe that CHP’s technology, if successfully developed, could represent a very big milestone for renewable energies. It combines the cost efficiency of wind farms with the advantage of being both predictable and adjustable thanks to hydrogen storage. It is one of the few renewable technologies that aren’t sensitive to the stability of power lines. This permits widespread implementation, even in areas with weak electrical infrastructure. Certifying a prototype with CHP could reduce Ibereólica’s project installation costs by a factor of three, and enable us to comfortably surpass 1,000 MW installed capacity. We are happy to have the license for Spain, a leading country in renewable energy. This combined with Spain’s privileged solar radiation makes for a very promising business opportunity.

—David Gomez, CEO of Grupo Ibereólica


Rafael Seidl

As a method for producing electricity from sunlight, this is hugely expensive. However, the process yields heat plus two valuable chemical products (hydrogen & oxygen).

The concentrated solar heat is perhaps best used to pre-heat the feed water of the solar concentrators via heat exchangers. This increases the throughput capacity of the solar ovens and cools the gases down so they can be handled more easily.

The hydrogen is best used locally to improve the yields of processes that generate liquid fuels, e.g. BTL, because those are much easier to distribute and fetch a higher price per kWh than electricty does.

Pure oxygen is a high-value input in a variety of industrial processes, including steelmaking and clean coal combustion. Or, it can be liquefied and shipped in bottles as an industrial gas for operating plasma torches etc.


Great post!

If the economics don't work, recycling efforts won't either.
As our little contribution to make this economics of recycling more appealing, blogs about people and companies that make money selling recycled or reused items, provide green services or help us reduce our dependency on non renewable resources.

Roger Arnold

Rafael, on what basis are you saying that this is a "hugely expensive" way to produce electricity from sunlight? You may well be right, but I didn't see enough information in the article to support that conclusion.

Are you perhaps thinking that any generation of electricity from hydrogen is expensive, due to the cost of fuel cells? That's presently true, but I'm not confident it will remain so in the future.

Nonetheless, I do agree that, given a source of hydrogen and oxygen, the most economically efficient use for it is the sort of thing you suggest.

There are a lot of possibilities. An interesting one is to generate both power and synthetic natural gas, via the Sabatier reaction with the CO2 stream from an oxy-fueled power plant. Microchannel Sabatier reactors were researched under a NASA contract for fuel production on Mars. They appear practical even at the scale appropriate for a handful of solar-thermal hydrogen units of the type described.

Roger Pham

Is this awesome or what? The overall thermal efficiency for H2 coversion is 56% based on their estimate of 10.4 kg H2/day, each kg of H2 has 33kwh of energy, with 94 sq meter of area of 6.5kwh/meter sq each. This is in contrast to solar thermal electricity at 30% efficiency.
The problem is what to do with the H2 obtained? If in the desert area, it may be too far to transport the H2 to population centers, unless dedicated H2 pipeline infrastructure is setup for this purpose. But, once this is done, then we will have a supply of renewable fuel for a long time to come.

hampden wireless

While I don't like the whole hydrogen economy thing the processes used here could get much cheaper with time. There are some exotic materials but most of it is engineering and just knowing how to do it. It also does look scalable to smaller sizes even home size. At that point a hydrogen ICE powered car does not bother me.


The H2 and O2 can be used to enhance bio mass gasification. If you use O2, you can get a cleaner process and the extra H2 can be used to make more methane.


If used for biomass processing the mistiming between rainy and sunny weather becomes less important as feedstocks are built up. Onsite gas storage need not be high pressure which is one of the bugbears of portable applications like FCVs.

Max Reid

There are
40 million solar water heaters in China
and 4 million solar water heaters in Japan.

A heat of 2200 degree celsius can be used for both the heat and power generation in addition to hydrogen & oxygen.

Unlike the solar tower being built in Australia, this is an small individual unit just like a windmill.

Mass production will bring down the cost like solar water heater. Lets wait and see.


Max: Is that tower actually being constructed? or are they stalled for funding.


I'm leary of household hydrogen production, storage, transfer to a vehicle, and consumption. You still lose a lot of energy pressurizing the H2, and then there's the safety issues. How hazardous is hydrogen compared to the big LPG tanks people in rural areas keep on their property?

Roger Pham

Store the large and low pressure H2 tank outdoor for local electricity generation and heating. If there is a HealthyBreeze blowing around, any H2 leakage will dissipate quickly heavenward like a homesick angel!

You can also built your H2 furnace outdoor and conduct the hot air inside the house, but it would be more energy efficient to use H2 for electrical generation to sell to the grid while use the waste heat of electrical generation to warm your house, or the same waste heat to cool your house using vapor-absorptive cooler.

For automotive use, it may cost less in term of hardware investment to fill up your future H2-vehicle at a "gas station", due to the high pressures involved.

Rafael Seidl

@Roger Arnold -

the article doesn't state costs in dollars and cents, but it does say that each solar concentrator will have 93m^2 surface area yet deliver just 10.4kg hydrogen per day.

For comparison, the gravimetric energy density of hydrogen is around 130MJ/kg, i.e. 3x that of gasoline or diesel. Assuming storage and distribution losses of 10%, compression overheads of another 10%, a conversion efficiency of 60% and an electric drivetrain efficiency of 85%, that translates to ~54 MJ/kg where the rubber meets the road.

For comparison, assume 24% average efficiency for a diesel ICE and drivetrain, yielding ~10MJ/kg at the wheels. An average diesel LDV covering 20,000km in a year at 5l/100km (4.25kg/100km) uses 850kg of diesel fuel, delivering 8500 MJ of energy for propulsion.

An FCV would require 8500/54 = 157kg of hydrogen. Therefore, based on the projections made in the article, each solar concentrator could support ~24 FCVs. That sounds like a lot, until you consider that those cars would also have to support the real estate cost and capital investment in the dish, plus a share of the no doubt very expensive solar oven and high-temperature gas generators plus the distribution infrastructure for the energy carrier. On top of that, FCVs themselves are hugely expensive.

This is why I'm saying that there are better uses for hydrogen than using it to power cars, especially if it is - laudably - produced using expensive solar power.

Nick Flynn

cool technology but only useful if there is a need for H2 near the powerplant. A much more universal solution would be concentrator solar power (csp)plus high voltage DC transmission lines. Such as setup solves the distribution problem. Taking the energy to where it's needed. If H2 is used as an energy carrier for phev's then it could be generated where it needed by electrolysis. For more info see

Roger Pham

A desert solar farm may have 1/3 of concentrated solar PV at ~35% efficiency for immediate transmission, then 2/3 of the solar arrays could be CHP like this here to produce H2 at ~56% efficiency. This H2 is then stored in large low-pressure tanks to be used in SOFC for electrical generation at 60% efficiency, or in combined-cycle gas fired turbines at also ~60% efficiency for used during sundown hours. Multiply 56% by 60% = ~34% for stored generation capacity, which is comparable with direct concentrated solar PV, and much higher than solar thermal electricity with molten salt heat storage at just ~20-25% overall efficiency.

This means high-dependability and high-efficiency solar electric generation without requiring fossil fuel backup. With excess H2 production capability, then a H2 pipeline can be built to transpor the H2 to population centers to be used directly as fuel, or for synthesizing methane, ammonia, hydrocarbons etc. depending on the needs.

P Schager

Their web site shows some clear fossil-fuel killer cost and efficiency claims. About $1 (US) per kg hydrogen ($1/gallon gasoline equivalent). 44% Solar Energy-to-Hydrogen conversion. A very simple device. Off-the-shelf tracking solar concentrator, plus $600 in volume ($4500 initially) for their separator device.

Direct thermolysis is a very efficient way to make hydrogen, and is perhaps the best argument for hydrogen as an energy carrier. It certainly is a good replacement for the fossil fuel of hydrogen's existing supplies, which would improve the situation with fossil fuel and all of its problems. Especially the market inelasticity-spawned problems; a new strong competitor will do that. And the hydrogen will be good for aircraft.

I can imagine using this to make ammonia for fertilizer in the corn belt in the winter, when crops won't grow, for instance. Or making hydrogen from solar power to be stored in old natural gas wells, to produce energy indirectly when the sun isn't shining on your PV arrays and you need it. I'm still confident PV is going to come out on top for efficiency and will be primary.

My biggest concern is whether this company will be able to achieve long thermocycle life; their operating temperature of 2200 C is much higher than what SOFC people are operating, who are already finding this difficult. If you have to resort to stuffing the device in a thermos to keep it hot at night to prevent thermocycles, that will add quite a bit to your cost.

I hope they succeed. Just don't take your eye off the battery-drive (PHEV etc.) ball; that's the next major meaningful step for cars, the subject of this site.

Michael McMillan

I guess you can run it backwards at night to keep the heat up.

Nick Flynn


Your numbers look favourable, though I'd question how much energy might need to be stored given global HVDC supergrid combined with massive solar grid output in each of the world deserts.

I agree though that this has pretty aswesome potential.

Would be nice to see a few studies comparing solar CHP with H2 energy backup vs CSP (PV or thermal) with a global HVDC grid plus other energy storage such as molten salt thermal storage.

It looks like both could could provide an expanding world with all its energy needs, but which:

Has the lowest installed and lifetime costs?

Has the highest energy output per area of land?

Is least vulnerable to storms and weather extremes.

Is better for conversion to other energy carriers: methanol, syngas etc

At first glass I think you might be right that a mix would be best, but there's quite a lot of metrics to compute ; )


I suppose this ceramic filter also be used in a nuclear reactor.
If after splitting and separating the heat of the hydrogen and oxygen is transfered to the feeding water in a counter-current system, no heat energy is lost.
Secondly, very high pressure is produced when the water is evaporated. Even after cooling, the pressure remains high enough so the hydrogen doesn't need to be compressed further. The high-pressure oxygen could be used to drive a turbine to provide electricity for the plant.

Paul Dietz

I am skeptical of any system that expects components with temperatures in excess of 1000 C, let alone 2200 C, to operate for sufficiently long to make economic sense. Examples of even the lower temperature are few and far between, typically with the component being low complexity and robust (like liners of furnaces).

That said, the very high temperatures achievable with high-concentration solar are one of the interesting pluses for that energy source. I am attracted to solar water splitting cycles in which (in one step) metal oxide particles are brought to very high temperature and partially decomposed to lower oxides and free oxygen. This would not require any system components except the particles be exposed to the high temperature, as they could be dropped through the focus of a power-tower-like concentrator.

Roger Pham

Skeptics of this CHP are rightly so, since according to their website, their claims are merely projection and not actual data from any functional prototype.

Filtering or separating the H2 from the O2 at above 2000 degrees is an extremely difficult task. It makes high-temp electrolysis at 800 degrees a cakewalk, since the H2 and the O2 are already separated at opposite electrodes.

vicente barata

very important


The overall thermal efficiency for H2 coversion is 56%

I get 69%.

Sylvie LG Pollard

Love solar hydrogen! Let's not think of cars running on it though. I mean, why would we need to go to all the trouble of installing gas stations for hydrogen fuel cell cars? Solar hydrogen gives us the electricity for our homes etc and if we are driving the fast electric cars General Motors killed off, we just plug in don't we?


Hydrogen is the battery...



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