First Day Reflections

Tour of Sandia

My first day at Sandia began with a visit to the badge office.  Since the lab is on Kirtland AFB, you need clear identification to designate where you are and are not allowed on base.  The badging didn’t take long, and soon I was through the base gate on my way to the solar test facility.  Getting to the actual facility was quite a drive; about 15 minutes from the time that I entered the base.  Beautiful scenery surrounds the trip to the facility.  Once I arrived, I watched a short safety video (some of the equipment on site is capable of producing over 3000 “suns” of concentrated solar light!) and then toured the facility campus with Nate Siegel, whom I will be working with for the remainder of the week.

There is a multitude of solar energy devices on site, each one with a different purpose.  Some, like the focusing dishes shown below, use stirling engines to generate electricity using focused sunlight.  Others, like the power tower, use a system of focused mirrors to provide concentrated sunlight for flux experimentation and materials testing.  On Tuesday morning I will be participating in an experiment with solar furnace “CR5”, which is a dish type solar furnace that utilizes high speed shutters for tests

Experiment overview

cerium (IV) oxide test disk

Later this morning, I will be participating in a solar experiment using a dish solar furnace.  The experimental goal is take carbon dioxide and convert it into useable fuel, with the end goal being the production of a sustainable source to generate liquid fuels using carbon dioxide as the primary starter.  To generate fuel, we will need to convert the carbon dioxide into carbon monoxide.  This is accomplished using cerium (IV) oxide along with a generous contribution of energy courtesy of the sun.  I don’t know the activation energy of this reaction , but it must be tremendous.  The basic idea is that the energy of the sun, when focused on the cerium (IV) oxide, causes the oxide to reduce.  When the reduced form (cerium (II) oxide) is exposed to carbon dioxide, it readily removes an oxygen atom, forming carbon monoxide.  This process recycles the cerium oxides and can be a continuous source of carbon monoxide while the furnace is in operation.  My part in the days experiment will be to operate a FLIR camera to thermally map the reaction zone.  The reaction occurs optimally at very high temperatures, and the infrared camera allows us to map out the entire reaction vessel to identify hot and cold spots.  We tested the FLIR camera yesterday using a black body radiator at 1000 C, later ramping it up to 1200 C.


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