Scientists mimic essence of plants' energy storage system
While techno-progress can make life good, it still leaves unresolved the old riddle of progress with poverty -- the more science and technology, the wider the gap in wealth and income, not to mention power. That’s resolved only by getting clear on property -- keeping what’s one’s, untaxed, and sharing what’s ours, recovered then disbursed. Nicely and tidily, techo-progress pushes up land values (think Silicon Valley), which if recovered and shared cuts all the citizenry in on every scientific revolution. We trim this press release from MIT of July 31 and circulated by TruthOut on August 9.
by Anne Trafton, MIT NewsMIT researchers have hit upon a simple, inexpensive, highly efficient process for storing electricity from any source, including solar energy, for use when the sun doesn't shine.
Requiring nothing but abundant, non-toxic natural materials, this discovery could unlock the most potent, carbon-free energy source of all: the sun. In one hour, enough sunlight strikes the Earth to provide the entire planet's energy needs for one year.
MIT's Daniel Nocera, the Henry Dreyfus Professor of Energy at MIT, is senior author of a paper describing the work in the July 31 issue of Science.
Inspired by the photosynthesis performed by plants, Nocera and Matthew Kanan, a postdoctoral fellow in Nocera's lab, have developed a process that facilitates using electricity from sunlight or any other source 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 hydrogen gas. The new catalyst consists of cobalt, 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.
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.
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.
This project was funded by the National Science Foundation -- government -- and by the Chesonis Family Foundation -- charity -- 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.
Where was industry, as in oil industry? your editor wonders. Wherever, no centralized source of funding would be necessary -- just like no centralized source of electricity would be necessary -- if we all received a fair share of society’s surplus -- or had a fuel cell in our homes.
"This is a major discovery with enormous implications for the future prosperity of humankind," said James Barber, the Ernst Chain Professor of Biochemistry at Imperial College London. "The importance of their discovery cannot be overstated. It opens up the door for developing new technologies for energy production that reduces our dependence on burning fossil fuels."
JJS: Well and good. Yet we’d have both the progress and the prosperity sooner via justice, by losing taxes and subsidies and instead sharing the worth of Mother Earth.
Jeffery J. Smith runs the Forum on Geonomics.
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