Sunday, August 03, 2008

Beyond Feet of Clay

Man is capable of moving beyond Feet of Clay when politics, stupidity and greed are studiously avoided (See Q & A) as seen by the recent breakthrough regarding the storage of solar energy.

"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."

This could be the deal maker for Solar as researchers have achieved, in the lab, the holy grail of cheap, efficient storage of energy garnered from the sun.

"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."

The race toward viable renewables looks a bit brighter with this latest announcement. Let's hope it scales to real world application, something discussed in a BRT article titled The Long Emergency.
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