Major breakthrough in solar storage at MIT.

Yesterday I wrote about the progress in solar cell technology and the excellent prospects for the future of this renewable green energy, today comes the news that MIT has made a breakthrough in that the other aspect of providing Solar energy, the means of storing it when the sun doesn’t shine.

Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) researchers have hit upon a simple, inexpensive, highly efficient process for storing solar energy. Anne Trafton of MIT reports on the innovation:

“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.

MIT’s Daniel Nocera, the Henry Dreyfus Professor of Energy at MIT and senior author of a paper described 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.”

Until now the application of solar technology has been limited by the fact that storing solar electricity has been prohibitively expensive and inefficient.  This major breakthrough offers a means of storage that is simple, cheap, highly efficient and requires nothing but abundant non-toxic materials.

Combined with the development of solar cell technology, this breakthrough finally allows a means of harnessing the power of sunlight, which ” has the greatest potential of any power source to solve the world’s energy problems,” says Nocera. In one hour, enough sunlight strikes the Earth to provide the entire planet’s energy needs for one year.

And where will this breakthrough lead?

“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.”

This is a truly breathtaking piece of discovery that heartens all of us who have been hoping for some breakthrough for the obstacle of solar power storage.

Read more and view images and hear Daniel Nocera speak about his discovery at the MIT link here.

and also this article in MIT’s Technology Review.

PHOTO: The new catalyst will open the door for effective storage of solar energy.

beaker with catalyst

Photo courtesy of MIT News Office.

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~ by abstraktbiblos on Friday, 1 August, 2008.

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