MIT is at it again…
Posted by Jeff on August 3, 2008
I just read this article about a research breakthrough at MIT dealing with solar power. Basically, they’ve figured out a way for solar energy to be stored when there is no sun in a cost-effective way. This means that solar power is that much closer to becoming a primary energy source!
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.
That’s right.. Artificial photosynthesis! Why didn’t anyone think of this before?!?
Although there are some bugs still to be worked out, researchers at the MIT Energy Initiative are confidant that in the near future solar power will be economical, with homes using photovoltaic cells for power during the day and funneling that excess solar energy into creating hydrogen and oxygen to power a night-time fuel cell.
Another article on this can be found at Physlink.
I must say, the future is BRIGHT!