Alternative Energy

Alternative Energy

Alternative energy news, and information about renewable energy technologies.

Sep 30

Splitting Water to Store Solar Energy

Posted in Energy Inventions | Photovoltaic Cells | Solar Power

Solar Energy Storage MIT professor Daniel Nocera earlier worked on a catalysts that can divide water molecules which can be utilized to store energy. Daniel Nocera has established a company named as Sun Catalytix to give his dreams a concrete shape. His company is backed by venture capital firm Polaris Ventures. Nocera is known as a “huge centralized energy person.” When he thought about the problems faced by developed and developing world then formed the view that the solution to energy problem lies in cheap energy generation. Sun Catalytix is working on an advanced system that will use low-cost solar panels to produce hydrogen. This hydrogen will then be stored and used to produce electricity in a fuel cell.

The star of Sun Catalytix’s technology is a cobalt phosphate catalyst. Nocera pointed out that cobalt phosphate is more efficient at splitting water into hydrogen and oxygen than other catalysts. Its USP is this catalyst will work under ambient temperatures and with a wide range of water quality. His laboratory has got water samples from the Charles River in Boston and it worked well. Many commercial electrolyzers are available in the market that split water to make hydrogen. But their main drawbacks are they are costly and they need lots of energy to run. Nocera’s Sun Catalytix is testing an electroylzer, built around the catalyst that can be produced using cheap PVC plastic. The crux of the matter is to exploit solar panels to power the electrolyzer to produce hydrogen. This hydrogen would be stored in tanks. Whenever the need arises, the stored hydrogen would be put through a fuel cell.

According to Nocera three liters of water a day could power a home, or a fuel cell car in the “legacy world,” or developed countries. These countries hold a record of high consumption of electricity. But if we consider the case of developing countries where people don’t have much energy to use three liters would make a world of a difference. Three liters would fulfill the power needs of many people. He is talking about the future scenario of the world, “The solution, assuming the legacy world does the right thing (and uses energy efficiently), to this problem for the future is attacking the non-legacy world and they don’t have any money. That’s the challenge.”

Nocera declares his enthusiasm to the world, “This technology is moving really fast. We’re already at the engineering prototype design. I’m hiring no scientists–I’m just having a massive engineering effort right now. Within two years, we want to have a totally working kilowatt system.” Nocera attended the EmTech conference on emerging technologies last week, and said that engineers are now working on a model design for the system. His company has also roped in Art Goldstein as Chairman who was the retired CEO of water desalination company Ionics.

Researchers are currently trying to minimize the size of the large-scale systems as happened during the evolution of computers. But shrinking of size will not shrink the costs of production. Nocera didn’t see much evolution as far as batteries are concerned but he is quite optimistic regarding fuel cells. “What you need in my opinion is to start with a blank piece of paper and start inventing. Don’t take what’s there and try to reengineer it.”

For the full commercialization of this product common consumer has to wait for eight or ten years. They have to tie many loose ends such as hydrogen storage, cheaper solar panels, and cheaper fuel cells.

  • L Michael Hohmann

    What a great leap forward! Saw the Nocera write-up in the September issue of National Geographic.

    Regards, Mike Hohmann

  • Cynthia S.

    I am not sure I understand… how to put the water molecule back together again at the same rate that it will be split?

  • al millard

    Due to the water shortages, I would like to know if this method can be used with sea water or would it be too corrosive?

  • Cynthia Sirianni

    I’m having problems understanding how to put the h2o molecule back together again at the same rate it is split, can someone clarify that?

  • Vincent Brissenden

    If this actually works on an industrial scale (which I believe may do) you have something like a revolution on your hands, the relevant sectors of industry will love it therefore patent the idea quickly or, hate it because someone somewhere stands to loose a lot of money.

  • Ana Margarita Perez Martin

    I welcome all ideas and projects that produce energy without polluting the environment. The oil producing countries like Venezuela, do not develop or support these conservation issues economically because they are not interested. A total disgrace!

  • Harry Bilton

    You should have seen the acid water and pollutants that I have seen coming off coal mines. Do you Know where they bury the ash from burnt coal Andrew. In pits along the Oho River. Every where you turn there will be draw backs. Hydric Acid is just one of problems. But something has to be done with the ever growing problem of polluting garbage. I’ve seen people put it out in creeks to be carried away with the next rain. It’s dumped all over here in the desert. Get off the beaten track Andrew and educate yourself. Go where I’ve been and see what I’ve seen. Now that’s an education.

  • Dan Greene

    I’m a little confused about this method of storage too. How do you get the power back out again?

  • Kenneth

    I went to one of his lectures last year. His technique uses a self-regenerating solar electrolytic cell. This cell basically uses solar energy to split water molecules, which become hydrogen gas and oxygen gas, which allows a renewable splitting of energy.

    These gases are then stored in tanks in order to be combined into water again. Note here that oxygen gas and hydrogen gas spontaneously form water in nature, releasing energy. This is where the energy is harnessed in his design. The water formed is then stored in another tank to keep one source of water reused over and over.

  • Al

    Deluge has a commercial engine with this tech. for the last 10 years. Go to the products page and the break down is much more simple to understand.

  • Cynthia S.

    Very nice! Thank you for posting Kenneth

  • Arthur D Hall

    This is a welcome and new angle on a well known (but hidden by the carbon pushers of the world) fact that hydrogen and oxygen gas from splitting the water molecule is the easiest, cheapest, safest, cleanest, most powerful and diverse form of energy ever discovered. Stored within the water molecule are two powerful hydrogen atoms waiting to be released and
    burned. Incidentally there is also an oxygen atom perfectly placed to aid in that burning process. WOW!

    Is that not a miracle substance?

    It gets even better. The energy that the hydrogen atoms contains is there already from the time that it was created. There is NO CORRELATION between the power of that energy and the electrical energy required to separate the water molecule into oxygen and hydrogen gas. When you see a thunderbolt of lightning and the rain comes pouring down, just say God is charging billions of little water batteries for us to drink, heat, travel, etc. with.

    It is time to put the filth of Oil Can Harry to rest. I will plant a daisy for him the day hydrogen flames heat my home. I have two Grandfathers and a Father who died prematurely from working in deep Indiana coal mines. I live within a mile of a coal burning power plant from which I am breathing the exhaust.

    hIt is time to end it now, never mind the global warming consequences we are all facing.

    I have just stated the facts and no doubt someone will say they don’t believe in it or want it not to be true or try to convince us that it isn’t for the sake of a corporate profit all the way to all of our demise.

  • noor ahmed mengal

    As every one knows that biggest problem with electricity produced through solar generation is it’s availability i.e. it is available as long as the sun shines. In order to make to available all the time we have to find a feasible way for its storage. Once splitting water is mastered and it becomes economically viable, generation of electricity will be the biggest source of electricity in coastal areas of the entire middle east and hydrogen can also be brought in other uses too.

  • kunal

    The idea seems very interesting. especially if we could boost the solar cells with Space-based solar farms as mentioned in the other inventions. African countries near the equator receive much solar power. with the sea ( desalination process) and the big rivers already near, we could make these third world countries earn money by making them the suppliers of the hydrogen. (oxygen is available worldwide 🙂 )

  • Arthur D Hall

    A FACT: The energy that the water molecule contains is there from the time that it was created in the atmosphere before it fell as rain. There is NO CORRELATION between the power of that energy and the electrical energy required to separate the water molecule into oxygen and hydrogen gas. Laws of thermodynamics do not apply.

  • kunal

    Well as basic chemistry: water molecules have lower energy molecules than the oxygen and hydrogen molecules separately. when split they act as energy ‘containers’. sorry for the non-technical words. We could use this to our advantage.

  • Arthur D. Hall

    I venture to guess that it takes much less energy to transport and split water into oxygen and hydrogen gas at the site of use than it does to find, pump transport and refine oil into fuel and transport it to the site of use.

    The gas derived from water burns hotter, more efficient and has no pollutants while the oil byproducts spew toxic chemicals into the air.

    Using solar or wind power to split the water makes it even more efficient and totally off the grid. This is THE ANSWER! Problem solved!

    Speculation and wringing hands is over, It is time to do it. I never thought water would burn so hot till I tried it myself. HOTDAMN-WHODATHUNKIT.

  • LJM

    How many think this will actually make it to Main Street, or be scooped up by the Pentagon, never to be heard of again?

  • jon

    Every time I look at this stuff I see the same pattern. A scientist or engineer develops something and that about it. These people are great at creating but suck at marketing and actually making money. About the limit will be they have a big bill from developing it and they will either sell the whole lot to someone for there costs and not much then gets done with it or the technology actually costs too much to buy or costs too much to produce what it was designed for and they fold.

    There are plenty of individuals into alternatives who would buy the stuff but they haven’t got deep pockets. Corporations do have money but they want monopolies so if they develop for them it’s going to sit on the shelf. If they want to change the world they need to start at the market end where it’s going to be and work backwards to then producing the technology, not at the technology end and then find surprise there is no market for it. That’s just doing pure science and a bad business model. How much of this stuff do you see being advertised on ebay or website shop that you can just get off the shelf and actually install today and use yourself tomorrow that a person could actually afford.

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