Friday, August 29, 2008

Solar energy - Storage breakthrough at MIT?

Ever wonder how we can make solar energy available at night? Batteries are too expensive and inefficient, so until now people have been proposing beaming power down from collectors in orbit, where the sun always shines. Also expensive.

So it's exciting to read about a potential breakthrough at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, and the project leader says it's easy and cheap:
Requiring nothing but abundant, non-toxic natural materials, this discovery could unlock the most potent, carbon-free energy source of all: the sun. "This is the nirvana of what we've been talking about for years," said MIT's Daniel Nocera, the Henry Dreyfus Professor of Energy at MIT and senior author of a paper describing the work in the July 31 issue of Science. "Solar power has always been a limited, far-off solution. Now we can seriously think about solar power as unlimited and soon." Inspired by the photosynthesis performed by plants, Nocera and Matthew Kanan, a postdoctoral fellow in Nocera's lab, have developed an unprecedented process that will allow the sun's energy to be used to split water into hydrogen and oxygen gases. Later, the oxygen and hydrogen may be recombined inside a fuel cell, creating carbon-free electricity to power your house or your electric car, day or night.

The key component in Nocera and Kanan's new process is a new catalyst that produces oxygen gas from water; another catalyst produces valuable hydrogen gas. The new catalyst consists of cobalt metal, phosphate and an electrode, placed in water. When electricity -- whether from a photovoltaic cell, a wind turbine or any other source -- runs through the electrode, the cobalt and phosphate form a thin film on the electrode, and oxygen gas is produced.

Combined with another catalyst, such as platinum, that can produce hydrogen gas from water, the system can duplicate the water splitting reaction that occurs during photosynthesis.

The new catalyst works at room temperature, in neutral pH water, and it's easy to set up, Nocera said. "That's why I know this is going to work. It's so easy to implement," he said. Source

Sometimes you read about 'breakthroughs,' but they sound a little too Out There and they quickly vanish into obscurity. In this case, I find it exciting that MIT is already part of the Masdar Project. The Nocera innovation could be on a fast-track to development.

No comments:

Post a Comment