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'Major discovery' from MIT primed to unleash solar revolution

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  • William Tarbox
    http://web.mit.edu/newsoffice/2008/oxygen-0731.html Scientists mimic essence of plants energy storage system Anne Trafton, News Office July 31, 2008 Synopsis:
    Message 1 of 8 , Aug 1, 2008
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      http://web.mit.edu/newsoffice/2008/oxygen-0731.html

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

      Synopsis:
      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
      power.

      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
      night.

      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
      year.

      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
      problem."

      '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
    • Robert Johnston
      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
      Message 2 of 8 , Aug 1, 2008
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        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.


        Robert

         

         

        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

         


        http://web.mit.edu/newsoffice/2008/oxygen-0731.html

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

        Synopsis:
        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
        power.

        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
        night.

        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
        year.

        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
        problem."

        '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

      • Robert Johnston
        I should add that since it appeared in Science with a splash, there must be a big deal, I just don t get it. Anybody else have a clue? (I can t access
        Message 3 of 8 , Aug 1, 2008
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          I should add that since it appeared in Science with a splash, there must be a big deal, I just don’t get it.  Anybody else have a clue?  (I can’t access Science online).


          Robert

           

          From: hreg@yahoogroups.com [mailto:hreg@yahoogroups.com] On Behalf Of Robert Johnston
          Sent: Friday, August 01, 2008 3:37 PM
          To: hreg@yahoogroups.com
          Subject: RE: [hreg] 'Major discovery' from MIT primed to unleash solar revolution

           

          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.


          Robert

           

           

        • Philip Timmons
          Sure, I think I can explain it . . . It is research funding time, so we need to publish . . . . WE ARE DOING GREAT THINGS (tm) aka, Plea$e $end more re$earch
          Message 4 of 8 , Aug 1, 2008
          • 0 Attachment
            Sure, I think I can explain it . . .

            It is research funding time, so we need to publish . . . .

            WE ARE DOING GREAT THINGS (tm)

            aka, Plea$e $end more re$earch money.

            Overall, you are correct.  Storage of PV produced electricity is not the problem with PV.  The cost of the PV on the front end is.  But it is much easier to solve make believe problems with make believe solutions.

            Have we reached Peak BS, yet?  I am still waiting for my 200 mpg carb from the last go 'round.





            --- On Fri, 8/1/08, Robert Johnston <junk1@...> wrote:
            From: Robert Johnston <junk1@...>
            Subject: RE: [hreg] 'Major discovery' from MIT primed to unleash solar revolution
            To: hreg@yahoogroups.com
            Date: Friday, August 1, 2008, 3:49 PM

            I should add that since it appeared in Science with a splash, there must be a big deal, I just don’t get it.  Anybody else have a clue?  (I can’t access Science online).


            Robert

             

            From: hreg@yahoogroups. com [mailto:hreg@ yahoogroups. com] On Behalf Of Robert Johnston
            Sent: Friday, August 01, 2008 3:37 PM
            To: hreg@yahoogroups. com
            Subject: RE: [hreg] 'Major discovery' from MIT primed to unleash solar revolution

             

            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.


            Robert

             

             


          • Jay Ring
            Do I detect a note of sarcasm? Are you kidding? This baby is off the charts! I could be completely wrong about this, but the use of a cobalt based catalyst is
            Message 5 of 8 , Aug 1, 2008
            • 0 Attachment
              Do I detect a note of sarcasm?
              Are you kidding? This baby is off the charts!

              I could be completely wrong about this, but the use of a cobalt based
              catalyst is a pretty good development, yes? Combined with the Polymer
              Electrolyte Membrane (PEM) fuel cell, that pretty much gets platinum
              completely out of the picture.

              Still I always thought the hardest problem would be storing it. You
              either have to put it in a low pressure tank or use cryogenics, either
              was is expensive and both require a compressor and you lose a lot of
              efficiency, never mind having to store explosive gas.

              I think storage is going to be a much bigger problem and until that is
              solved I don't see how it is going to be practical.

              Have a good one guys!



              --- In hreg@yahoogroups.com, Philip Timmons <philiptimmons@...> wrote:
              >
              > Sure, I think I can explain it . . .
              >
              > It is research funding time, so we need to publish . . . .
              >
              > WE ARE DOING GREAT THINGS (tm)
              >
              > aka, Plea$e $end more re$earch money.
              >
              > Overall, you are correct.  Storage of PV produced electricity is not
              the problem with PV.  The cost of the PV on the front end is.  But it
              is much easier to solve make believe problems with make believe solutions.
              >
              > Have we reached Peak BS, yet?  I am still waiting for my 200 mpg
              carb from the last go 'round.
              >
              >
              >
              >
              >
              > --- On Fri, 8/1/08, Robert Johnston <junk1@...> wrote:
              > From: Robert Johnston <junk1@...>
              > Subject: RE: [hreg] 'Major discovery' from MIT primed to unleash
              solar revolution
              > To: hreg@yahoogroups.com
              > Date: Friday, August 1, 2008, 3:49 PM
              >
              >
              >
              >
              >
              >
              >
              >
              >
              >
              >
              >
              >
              >
              >
              >
              >
              >
              >
              > I should add that since it appeared in Science with a splash,
              > there must be a big deal, I just don't get it.  Anybody else have a
              clue?  (I
              > can't access Science online).
              >
              >
              >
              > Robert
              >
              >  
              >
              >
              >
              >
              >
              > From:
              > hreg@yahoogroups. com [mailto:hreg@ yahoogroups. com] On Behalf Of
              Robert
              > Johnston
              >
              > Sent: Friday, August 01, 2008 3:37 PM
              >
              > To: hreg@yahoogroups. com
              >
              > Subject: RE: [hreg] 'Major discovery' from MIT primed to unleash solar
              > revolution
              >
              >
              >
              >
              >
              >  
              >
              >
              >
              >
              >
              >
              >
              >
              >
              > 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.
              >
              >
              >
              > Robert
              >
              >  
              >
              >  
              >
            • phil6142@aol.com
              Most PEM fuel Cells still use some platinum on the electrodes so it is not completely out of the picture.  Plus the article says they are just using cobalt
              Message 6 of 8 , Aug 3, 2008
              • 0 Attachment
                Most PEM fuel Cells still use some platinum on the electrodes so it is not completely out of the picture.  Plus the article says they are just using cobalt for the oxygen electrode.  The electrode they are using for hydrogen is platinum.  There are much cheaper ways of doing electrolysis but acedemia in general is not good at cost reduction pieces of development.  That is what needs to be done in industry.  Perhaps this new method is super high effiency and that will help but it will take some corporation to take this technology development and run with it in order to get costs down.  You can get close to 90% effiency with just nickel electrodes if you maintain the proper electrolyte solution so there isn't that much room to improve there and none of that has anything to do with solar power it could be used on any type of electricity (i.e. wind, hydro, coal) I think they are just making big statements about solar to get a "renewable energy" publication and try for some funding.

                Phillip


                -----Original Message-----
                From: Jay Ring <txses@...>
                To: hreg@yahoogroups.com
                Sent: Fri, 1 Aug 2008 4:59 pm
                Subject: [hreg] Re: 'Major discovery' from MIT primed to unleash solar revolution

                Do I detect a note of sarcasm?
                Are you kidding? This baby is off the charts!

                I could be completely wrong about this, but the use of a cobalt based
                catalyst is a pretty good development, yes? Combined with the Polymer
                Electrolyte Membrane (PEM) fuel cell, that pretty much gets platinum
                completely out of the picture.

                Still I always thought the hardest problem would be storing it. You
                either have to put it in a low pressure tank or use cryogenics, either
                was is expensive and both require a compressor and you lose a lot of
                efficiency, never mind having to store explosive gas.

                I think storage is going to be a much bigger problem and until that is
                solved I don't see how it is going to be practical.

                Have a good one guys!

                --- In hreg@yahoogroups. com, Philip Timmons <philiptimmons@ ...> wrote:
                >
                > Sure, I think I can explain it . . .
                >
                > It is research funding time, so we need to publish . . . .
                >
                > WE ARE DOING GREAT THINGS (tm)
                >
                > aka, Plea$e $end more re$earch money.
                >
                > Overall, you are correct.  Storage of PV produced electricity is not
                the problem with PV.  The cost of the PV on the front end is.  But it
                is much easier to solve make believe problems with make believe solutions.
                >
                > Have we reached Peak BS, yet?  ; I am still waiting for my 200 mpg
                carb from the last go 'round.
                >
                >
                >
                >
                >
                > --- On Fri, 8/1/08, Robert Johnston <junk1@...> wrote:
                > From: Robert Johnston <junk1@...>
                > Subject: RE: [hreg] 'Major discovery' from MIT primed to unleash
                solar revolution
                > To: hreg@yahoogroups. com
                > Date: Friday, August 1, 2008, 3:49 PM
                >
                >
                >
                >
                >
                >
                >
                >
                >
                >
                >
                >
                >
                >
                >
                >
                >
                >
                >
                > I should add that since it appeared in Science with a splash,
                > there must be a big deal, I just don't get it.  Anybody else have a
                clue?  (I
                > can't access Science online).
                >
                >
                >
                > Robert
                >
                >  
                >
                >
                >
                >
                >
                > From:
                > hreg@yahoogroups. com [mailto:hreg@ yahoogroups. com] On Behalf Of
                Robert
                > Johnston
                >
                > Sent: Friday, August 01, 2008 3:37 PM
                >
                > To: hreg@yahoogroups. com
                >
                > Subject: RE: [hreg] 'Major discovery' from MIT primed to unleash solar
                > revolution
                >
                >
                >
                >
                >
                >  
                >
                >
                >
                >
                >
                >
                >
                >
                >
                > Interesting, but I don't get i t. 
                > 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.
                >
                >
                >
                > Robert
                >
                >  
                >
                >  
                >

              • Ariel T.
                Here s the full text of the on-line report in Science . I also have the PDF from the magazine but know better than attaching it to a Yahoo thing. If anybody
                Message 7 of 8 , Aug 3, 2008
                • 0 Attachment
                  Here's the full text of the on-line report in 'Science'. I also have the PDF from the magazine but know better than attaching it to a Yahoo thing. If anybody wants it, let me know.  There are two other vaguely related articles in the same issue.

                  - - - - - - - - - - - - - - -

                  Science 1 August 2008:
                  Vol. 321. no. 5889, p. 620
                  DOI: 10.1126/science.321.5889.620

                   

                   


                  Prev | Table of Contents | Next

                   

                   


                  News of the Week

                   

                   

                  CHEMISTRY:
                  New Catalyst Marks Major Step in the March Toward Hydrogen Fuel

                   

                   

                  Robert F. Service

                   

                   

                  Climate change concerns, high gas prices, and a good deal of international friction would fade if scientists could learn a trick every houseplant knows: how to absorb sunlight and store its energy in chemical bonds. What's needed are catalysts capable of taking electricity and using it to split water to generate hydrogen gas, a clean fuel. Unfortunately, the catalysts discovered so far work under harsh chemical conditions, and the best ones are made from platinum, a rare and expensive metal.

                   

                   

                  No more. This week, researchers at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) in Cambridge led by chemist Daniel Nocera report online in Science a new water-splitting catalyst that works under environmentally friendly conditions (www.sciencemag.org/cgi/content/abstract/1162018). More important, it's made from cobalt and phosphorus, fairly cheap and abundant elements. The new catalyst needs improvements before it can solve the world's energy problems, but several outside researchers say it's a crucial development.

                   

                   

                  "This is a great result," says John Turner, an electrochemist and water-splitting expert at the National Renewable Energy Laboratory in Golden, Colorado. Thomas Moore, a chemist at Arizona State University in Tempe, goes further. "It's a big-to-giant step" in the direction of powering industrial societies with renewable fuels, he says. "I'd say it's a breakthrough." Meanwhile, on pages 671 and 676, other groups report related advances--a cheap plastic fuel cell catalyst that converts hydrogen to electricity, and a solid oxide fuel cell catalyst that operates at lower temperatures--that affect another vital component of any future solar hydrogen system.

                   

                   

                  English chemists first used electricity to split water more than 200 years ago. The reaction requires two separate catalytic steps. The first, the positively charged electrode, or anode, swipes electrons from hydrogen atoms in water molecules. The result is that protons (hydrogen atoms minus their electrons) break away from their oxygen atoms. The anode catalyst then grabs two oxygen atoms and welds them together to make O2. Meanwhile, the free protons drift through the solution to the negatively charged electrode, or cathode, where they hook up with electrons to make molecular hydrogen (H2).

                  The hard part is finding catalysts that can orchestrate this dance of electrons and protons. The anode, which links oxygens together, has been a particularly difficult challenge. Platinum works but is too expensive and rare to be viable on an industrial scale. "If we are going to use solar energy in a direct conversion process, we need to cover large areas," Turner says. "That makes a low-cost catalyst a must." Other metals and metal oxides can do the job but not at a neutral pH--another key to keeping costs down. In 2004, Nocera's team reported in the Journal of the American Chemical Society a cobalt-based catalyst that did the reverse reaction, catalyzing the production of water from O2, protons, and electrons. "That told us cobalt could manage multielectron and proton-coupled reactions," Nocera says.

                   

                   

                  Unfortunately, cobalt is useless as a standalone water-splitting anode because it dissolves in water. Nocera and his Ph.D. student Matthew Kanan knew they couldn't get over this hurdle. So they went around it instead. For their anode, they started with a stable electrode material known as indium tin oxide (ITO). They then placed their anode in a beaker of water, which they spiked with cobalt (Co2+) and potassium phosphate. When they flipped on the current, this created a positive charge in the ITO. Kanan and Nocera believe this initially pulls electrons from the Co2+, turning it first to Co3+, which pairs up with negatively charged phosphate ions and precipitates out of solution, forming a film of rocklike cobalt phosphate atop the ITO. Another electron is yanked from the Co3+ in the film to make Co4+, although the mechanism has not yet been nailed down. The film forms the critical water-splitting catalyst. As it does so, it swipes electrons from hydrogen atoms in water and then grabs hold of lone oxygen atoms and welds them together. In the process, the Co4+ returns to Co2+ and again dissolves into the water, and the cycle is repeated.

                   

                   

                  The catalyst isn't perfect. It still requires excess electricity to start the water-splitting reaction, energy that isn't recovered and stored in the fuel. And for now, the catalyst can accept only low levels of electrical current. Nocera says he's hopeful that both problems can be solved, and because the catalysts are so easy to make, he expects progress will be swift. Further work is also needed to reduce the cost of cathodes and to link the electrodes to solar cells to provide clean electricity. A final big push will be to see if the catalyst or others like it can operate in seawater. If so, future societies could use sunlight to generate hydrogen from seawater and then pipe it to large banks of fuel cells on shore that could convert it into electricity and fresh water, thereby using the sun and oceans to fill two of the world's greatest needs. 

                  - - - - - - - - - - - - - - -
                  Ariel
                  - We are all Human beings here together. We have to help one another, since otherwise there is NO ONE who will help.
                  - All countries need NO REGRETS strategic policies regarding every non-renewable resource, including water.
                  - Plan ahead seven generations -- reduce all your consumption, and eliminate waste.

                  - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - -


                • Robert Johnston
                  Thanks. Confirms suspicions. I guess a major breakthrough depends on whether you ve been drinking the hydrogen economy Kool-Aid or not. I think many
                  Message 8 of 8 , Aug 4, 2008
                  • 0 Attachment

                    Thanks.  Confirms suspicions.  I guess a “major breakthrough” depends on whether you’ve been drinking the hydrogen economy Kool-Aid or not.  I think many thinkers have been moving away from that idea.  Plus, it sounds like they have a lot of work left on this idea.  We’ll see…


                    Robert

                     

                    From: hreg@yahoogroups.com [mailto:hreg@yahoogroups.com] On Behalf Of Ariel T.
                    Sent: Sunday, August 03, 2008 11:26 PM
                    To: hreg@yahoogroups.com
                    Subject: [hreg] Re: 'Major discovery' from MIT primed to unleash solar revolution

                     

                    Here's the full text of the on-line report in 'Science'. I also have the PDF from the magazine but know better than attaching it to a Yahoo thing. If anybody wants it, let me know.  There are two other vaguely related articles in the same issue.

                    - - - - - - - - - - - - - - -

                     

                    Science 1 August 2008:
                    Vol. 321. no. 5889, p. 620
                    DOI: 10.1126/science.321.5889.620

                     

                     

                     

                    Prev | Table of Contents | Next

                     

                     

                     

                    News of the Week

                     

                     

                    CHEMISTRY:
                    New Catalyst Marks Major Step in the March Toward Hydrogen Fuel

                     

                     

                    Robert F. Service

                     

                     

                    Climate change concerns, high gas prices, and a good deal of international friction would fade if scientists could learn a trick every houseplant knows: how to absorb sunlight and store its energy in chemical bonds. What's needed are catalysts capable of taking electricity and using it to split water to generate hydrogen gas, a clean fuel. Unfortunately, the catalysts discovered so far work under harsh chemical conditions, and the best ones are made from platinum, a rare and expensive metal.

                     

                     

                    No more. This week, researchers at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) in Cambridge led by chemist Daniel Nocera report online in Science a new water-splitting catalyst that works under environmentally friendly conditions (www.sciencemag.org/cgi/content/abstract/1162018). More important, it's made from cobalt and phosphorus, fairly cheap and abundant elements. The new catalyst needs improvements before it can solve the world's energy problems, but several outside researchers say it's a crucial development.

                     

                     

                    "This is a great result," says John Turner, an electrochemist and water-splitting expert at the National Renewable Energy Laboratory in Golden, Colorado. Thomas Moore, a chemist at Arizona State University in Tempe, goes further. "It's a big-to-giant step" in the direction of powering industrial societies with renewable fuels, he says. "I'd say it's a breakthrough." Meanwhile, on pages 671 and 676, other groups report related advances--a cheap plastic fuel cell catalyst that converts hydrogen to electricity, and a solid oxide fuel cell catalyst that operates at lower temperatures--that affect another vital component of any future solar hydrogen system.

                     

                     

                    English chemists first used electricity to split water more than 200 years ago. The reaction requires two separate catalytic steps. The first, the positively charged electrode, or anode, swipes electrons from hydrogen atoms in water molecules. The result is that protons (hydrogen atoms minus their electrons) break away from their oxygen atoms. The anode catalyst then grabs two oxygen atoms and welds them together to make O2. Meanwhile, the free protons drift through the solution to the negatively charged electrode, or cathode, where they hook up with electrons to make molecular hydrogen (H2).

                    The hard part is finding catalysts that can orchestrate this dance of electrons and protons. The anode, which links oxygens together, has been a particularly difficult challenge. Platinum works but is too expensive and rare to be viable on an industrial scale. "If we are going to use solar energy in a direct conversion process, we need to cover large areas," Turner says. "That makes a low-cost catalyst a must." Other metals and metal oxides can do the job but not at a neutral pH--another key to keeping costs down. In 2004, Nocera's team reported in the Journal of the American Chemical Society a cobalt-based catalyst that did the reverse reaction, catalyzing the production of water from O2, protons, and electrons. "That told us cobalt could manage multielectron and proton-coupled reactions," Nocera says.

                     

                     

                    Unfortunately, cobalt is useless as a standalone water-splitting anode because it dissolves in water. Nocera and his Ph.D. student Matthew Kanan knew they couldn't get over this hurdle. So they went around it instead. For their anode, they started with a stable electrode material known as indium tin oxide (ITO). They then placed their anode in a beaker of water, which they spiked with cobalt (Co2+) and potassium phosphate. When they flipped on the current, this created a positive charge in the ITO. Kanan and Nocera believe this initially pulls electrons from the Co2+, turning it first to Co3+, which pairs up with negatively charged phosphate ions and precipitates out of solution, forming a film of rocklike cobalt phosphate atop the ITO. Another electron is yanked from the Co3+ in the film to make Co4+, although the mechanism has not yet been nailed down. The film forms the critical water-splitting catalyst. As it does so, it swipes electrons from hydrogen atoms in water and then grabs hold of lone oxygen atoms and welds them together. In the process, the Co4+ returns to Co2+ and again dissolves into the water, and the cycle is repeated.

                     

                     

                    The catalyst isn't perfect. It still requires excess electricity to start the water-splitting reaction, energy that isn't recovered and stored in the fuel. And for now, the catalyst can accept only low levels of electrical current. Nocera says he's hopeful that both problems can be solved, and because the catalysts are so easy to make, he expects progress will be swift. Further work is also needed to reduce the cost of cathodes and to link the electrodes to solar cells to provide clean electricity. A final big push will be to see if the catalyst or others like it can operate in seawater. If so, future societies could use sunlight to generate hydrogen from seawater and then pipe it to large banks of fuel cells on shore that could convert it into electricity and fresh water, thereby using the sun and oceans to fill two of the world's greatest needs. 

                    - - - - - - - - - - - - - - -
                    Ariel
                    - We are all Human beings here together. We have to help one another, since otherwise there is NO ONE who will help.
                    - All countries need NO REGRETS strategic policies regarding every non-renewable resource, including water.
                    - Plan ahead seven generations -- reduce all your consumption, and eliminate waste.

                    - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - -


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