TechScience Future

A new revolution : storing electricity from the sun

It seems that a new revolution is under way, and in less than 10 years we homeowners should have a source of renewable energy, simply by using the sun and water (and some catalysts) :

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.

I think that it would be really cool if this made it’s way to the top. Of course, being the 40ish year old cynical wiseguy that I am, I wonder if the oil companies and the electrical power companies (both behemoth energy suppliers) will be happy, and if unhappy, what they will do about it. In the article, they claim that powerlines could soon be a thing of the past, but I disagree with that : you could still give energy back via those lines, and someone inventive enough is going to find another solution to reuse them.

My hope is that those companies show themselves to be flexible and ready to adapt to the new possibilities.

Oh, and by the way, this is my 300th post !!!

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