This month SOFI was invited to set up shop 10 miles from SOFI HQ – at Chicago’s Adler Planetarium’s Adler After Dark night. The theme of the night was “Eureka!” and focused on inventions – old and new – that are changing our lives.
SOFI’s Dick Co was there, along with Alex Grant, the Northwestern University Ph.D. student working on the team that’s building the CO2 portion of the first SOFI Demo Project. They demonstrated two key pieces in solar fuels production: light capture and water splitting.

To show light capture, they set up a small photovoltaic (PV) panel, which when lit by a lamp, powered a small fan. The audience widely understood the processes of converting light energy into electrical energy and then to kinetic energy, similar to the traditional use of solar panels today. To create a solar fuel, they used energy generated from a similar small PV panel to power a PEM reversible fuel cell to split water and generate hydrogen and oxygen gases. Although simple, the demonstration allowed the audience to appreciate the conversion of light energy to chemical energy by witnessing small bubbles forming in the water.

Throughout the night, Dick and Alex welcomed questions from Alder visitors about both the production and viability of solar fuels, and were delighted to share SOFI’s mission and vision with a new audience. Creating a carbon-neutral fuel from sunlight potentially in one’s own backyard was exciting to many, and the concept didn’t seem farfetched, despite the audience clearly looking for something that was out of this world (the location was a planetarium after all!).

Other exhibits at Adler After Dark included House by Northwestern, the University team competing in the 2017 U.S. DOE Solar Decathlon, and Plant Chicago, a nonprofit dedicated to creating circular economics of food production, energy conservation, and material reuse. Details about the event can be found here.