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8040RE: [hreg] 'Major discovery' from MIT primed to unleash solar revolution

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  • Robert Johnston
    Aug 1, 2008

      Interesting, but I don’t get it.  This is simple electrolysis—same thing you did in high school chemistry lab.  Maybe there is less fouling of the electrodes or something, but it isn’t clear from the article what the big advantage is.  pH neutrality may allow it to better simulate photosynthesis, but who cares?  We don’t have to simulate photosynthesis conditions in the hydrogen generation part of the cycle.  In any case, seems to me the biggest bottleneck is generating the electricity, not generating hydrogen (though that is one candidate method for energy storage).  Guess I’ll have to hear more about this to see what the big deal is.




      From: hreg@yahoogroups.com [mailto:hreg@yahoogroups.com] On Behalf Of William Tarbox
      Sent: Friday, August 01, 2008 12:27 PM
      To: hreg@yahoogroups.com
      Subject: [hreg] 'Major discovery' from MIT primed to unleash solar revolution



      Scientists mimic essence of plants' energy storage system
      Anne Trafton, News Office
      July 31, 2008

      Daniel G. Nocera, the Henry Dreyfus Professor of Energy at MIT, has
      developed a simple method to split water molecules and produce oxygen
      gas, a discovery that paves the way for large-scale use of solar

      MIT researchers have developed a new catalyst, consisting of cobalt
      metal, phosphate and an electrode. When the catalyst is placed in
      water and electricity runs through the electrode, oxygen gas is
      produced. When another catalyst is used to produce hydrogen gas, the
      oxygen and hydrogen can be combined inside a fuel cell, creating
      carbon-free electricity to power a house or an electric car, day or

      With Daniel Nocera's and Matthew Kanan's new catalyst, homeowners
      could use their solar panels during the day to power their home,
      while also using the energy to split water into hydrogen and oxygen
      for storage. At night, the stored hydrogen and oxygen could be
      recombined using a fuel cell to generate power while the solar panels
      are inactive.

      Full article:
      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.

      'Giant leap' for clean energy
      Sunlight has the greatest potential of any power source to solve the
      world's energy problems, said Nocera. In one hour, enough sunlight
      strikes the Earth to provide the entire planet's energy needs for one

      James Barber, a leader in the study of photosynthesis who was not
      involved in this research, called the discovery by Nocera and Kanan
      a "giant leap" toward generating clean, carbon-free energy on a
      massive scale.

      "This is a major discovery with enormous implications for the future
      prosperity of humankind," said Barber, the Ernst Chain Professor of
      Biochemistry at Imperial College London. "The importance of their
      discovery cannot be overstated since it opens up the door for
      developing new technologies for energy production thus reducing our
      dependence for fossil fuels and addressing the global climate change

      'Just the beginning'
      Currently available electrolyzers, which split water with electricity
      and are often used industrially, are not suited for artificial
      photosynthesis because they are very expensive and require a highly
      basic (non-benign) environment that has little to do with the
      conditions under which photosynthesis operates.

      More engineering work needs to be done to integrate the new
      scientific discovery into existing photovoltaic systems, but Nocera
      said he is confident that such systems will become a reality.

      "This is just the beginning," said Nocera, principal investigator for
      the Solar Revolution Project funded by the Chesonis Family Foundation
      and co-Director of the Eni-MIT Solar Frontiers Center. "The
      scientific community is really going to run with this."

      Nocera hopes that within 10 years, homeowners will be able to power
      their homes in daylight through photovoltaic cells, while using
      excess solar energy to produce hydrogen and oxygen to power their own
      household fuel cell. Electricity-by-wire from a central source could
      be a thing of the past.

      The project is part of the MIT Energy Initiative, a program designed
      to help transform the global energy system to meet the needs of the
      future and to help build a bridge to that future by improving today's
      energy systems. MITEI Director Ernest Moniz, Cecil and Ida Green
      Professor of Physics and Engineering Systems, noted that "this
      discovery in the Nocera lab demonstrates that moving up the
      transformation of our energy supply system to one based on renewables
      will depend heavily on frontier basic science."

      The success of the Nocera lab shows the impact of a mixture of
      funding sources - governments, philanthropy, and industry. This
      project was funded by the National Science Foundation and by the
      Chesonis Family Foundation, which gave MIT $10 million this spring to
      launch the Solar Revolution Project, with a goal to make the large
      scale deployment of solar energy within 10 years.

      Bill Tarbox
      Magnolia, TX

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