View Full Version : 'Major Discovery' Primed To Unleash Solar Revolution

08-01-2008, 04:59 PM

Scientists Mimic Essence Of Plants' Energy Storage System

ScienceDaily (Aug. 1, 2008) In a revolutionary leap that could transform solar power from a marginal, boutique alternative into a mainstream energy source, MIT researchers have overcome a major barrier to large-scale solar power: storing energy for use when the sun doesn't shine.

Until now, solar power has been a daytime-only energy source, because storing extra solar energy for later use is prohibitively expensive and grossly inefficient. With today's announcement, MIT researchers have hit upon a simple, inexpensive, highly efficient process for storing solar energy.

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.

Neat stuff.

08-01-2008, 05:46 PM
I love this stuff....too bad big money hasn't figured out to get behind it and develop it for the masses

08-03-2008, 01:26 AM
A big key will be if they can use a substitute for platinum, which is more expensive than gold.

08-04-2008, 02:53 PM
A big key will be if they can use a substitute for platinum, which is more expensive than gold.

Don't know for certain if that's a complete necessity for this.

"Combined with another catalyst, such as platinum, that can produce hydrogen gas from water'

But I really know little about this other than platinum's used in my car's catalytic converter. Perhaps someone who knows more about this process can elaborate on the 'another catalyst' part in laymans terms. There's more than one or this is tonly and/or the cheapest and most abundant of them all.

And the new elements used in the 'new catalyst' in cobalt metal and phosphate. Cobalt don't know, but phosphates are used in fertilizer which could be as good for food prices as ethanol depending on the amounts needed.