How to store large amounts of solar energy at night has been one of the most puzzling issues surrounding this technology, but a group of researchers led by a University of North Carolina (UNC) professor may have found a solution.

UNC’s Tom Meyer and his colleagues have discovered a new way to use solar energy to split water into its molecular components of hydrogen and oxygen. The hydrogen can be used as fuel and would only generate more water as waste. Meyer told Charlotte, North Carolina-based newspaper News Observer that this process is not unlike the work that solar arrays and generators already perform.

“Part of a solar array, instead of just making electricity during the day, could in fact be making chemicals,” Meyer told the publication. “So when the sun goes down, you just run the chemicals through your power plant, and you extract the energy back out as you need it.”

According to the source, Meyer has been researching how to convert solar energy into fuel for several decades. Although he had a basic idea of the solution, it wasn’t until after he began to collaborate with other scientists that he realized the potential of breaking molecules.

The current process that Meyer developed only generates very little energy, but the researchers predict that they can make it more efficient. Their goal is to produce as much energy found in current commercial solar cells. They also plan on using the same process to turn carbon dioxide into a fuel such as methanol.

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