It doesn't take a stellar imagination to figure out the main downside of solar power. For years, the question of how to store the energy generated when the sun is shining for use at night has prevented solar power from becoming a viable alternative energy source. However, a new breakthrough may have overcome that storage problem, opening the door for solar energy on a grand scale.
Drawing on the principles of photosynthesis, the team at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology designed a system that uses solar power to break water into hydrogen and oxygen, which can be stored for later use as fuel. The process, detailed in the July 31st issue of the journal Science, hinges on the addition of new catalysts. The new technique takes advantage of a cobalt catalyst's ability to create oxygen gas when combined with water and an electric current. The solar panels provide the electric current, and the energy from that current is stored in the form of the hydrogen and oxygen, rather than in a capacitor.
Storing the solar energy as disassociated hydrogen and oxygen is far easier and cheaper than storing the solar power as electrical energy in a capacity. With the difficulty and expense of energy storage forming a major hurdle in the way of providing affordable solar power, this new technique may be the first step towards fulfilling significant energy demands with solar power. And considering the high price and limited available of fossils fuels, along with the fact that 174 thousand trillion watts of sunlight hit the Earth every day, a breakthrough in solar energy couldn't come at a better time. Of course, cars still cant' use the hydrogen fuel generated by this process, but at least it's a step in the right direction.
Via Science Daily
possible use for cars and now solar energy aplications. we may have a lot of water on this earth, but it frightens me to no end that we would take the one resource (well OK, not the only one, but a main one) and use it for fuel.
i can see it now, popsci doing a spread 100 years in the future, talking about a revolutionary new way to make water, so we don't all die. But hey, we'll be mining ice from mars by then, right?
Just cause you can doesnt mean you should.
I have been interested in flywheel storage systems for nearly 40 years. My latest system I have been writing about uses a totally sealed motor/generator sandwiched between two flywheels that are in vacuum chambers. The motor/generator would use either liquid coolant or forced air to cool the armature and prevent leakage of the vacuum. The flywheels would be made either from rock quartz or one of my ultra-stressed crystalline molecular solid materials with a magnetic band around the circumference facing another magnetic band inside the vacuum chambers to produce a linear induction effect. It may be possible to store kinetically over 100 watt-hours of energy per cubic inch. If that is the case, flywheels may be what we need to store the excess electricity instead of turning water into hydrogen and oxygen which would be burned by a steam generator.
Then again, I might go with my solar stacks; both solar voltaic and steam, to produce more electricity than flat displays.
Is an adult with such a poor understanding of how the planet's water cycle works. Didn't get a whole lot out of your 3rd grade natural science class did you there Kickstand.
Quick everybody! Go chop down a tree before it uses another drop of our most precious, and apparently non-renewable resource!
You do not seem to know a lot about using hydrogen as a fuel.
The magic with Hydrogen is that when you use it, it automatically turn back to water. Isn't it great?
Actually, there are two main ways to use hydrogen. Burning it (which means that the h2 molecule will bind to a oxygen atom and make h2o out of it (water)) or using it in a hydrogen battery, which also produce water.
Err... so apparently the "Subject" line on the comment panel doesn't actually do anything.
Please insert "What's really frightening is..." before my previous comment.
No mention is made of the efficiency of the catalytic process, which is key to this effort.
Electricity can always convert water to Hydrogen and Oxygen -- it just is not efficient.
It's hard to get excited about this until there is some discussion about the effivienvy.
I know that MIT us a brain factory, but I have seen too many reports from them that predicted great things-- but failed because they missed a fundamental part of the science
If cars can't use it, it's not exactly too hot. However, any progress is better than none!
Cars don't have to use the hydrogen; they can use the electricity from the solar panels. Hydrogen fuel cells are not the only option for powering a zero-emission car.
I am wondering if maybe this could help offset the Carbon in the atmosphere and things. I also wonder if there is a reason why this hydrogen cant be used in cars that run on hydrogen. I find it also interesting that some are worried about the hydrogen effect, when its our most abundant resource in the universe that we know of. I have ideas on reducing Carbon in our world the only thing is that we need a permanent solution instead of continuing to build up more and more of it. I also wonder if we could "over Oxygenate" our planet as well. I mean during the times of the dinosaurs there was far more O2 then there is now, what would happen if we had a O2 level of 50% rather then the current levels? Things to think about none the less.
Physco219, I like your point about over oxygenating the atmosphere. No matter what solution we end up using we have to look into the long term effects.
It's great that we've found a viable solution in turning water into hydrogen and oxygen, and then turning it back to water. And it's great that we'll get usable energy out of one of the largest natural cycles (the water cycle). But what happens in 2030, when the estimated 1 billion cars on this planet (http://hypertextbook.com/facts/2001/MarinaStasenko.shtml) are all displacing water and potentially disrupting the water cycle? Or what happens when our power plants output so much water that they form their own streams or rivers? What agricultural or environmental side effects are there?
Don't get me wrong, I think that using water is a great potential solution, but these are the questions we need to be asking.
Billion dollar question is:
How do we store all this hydrogen and oxygen gas?
We don't have to worry about water displacement. 99% of the water (the oceans) are more or less UNUSED.
We're really bad with resource management so far...mainly because big greedy corporations have been stifling ingenuity.
Usually, Greed Is Good, but when greed stifles ingenuity rather than promotes it, we have big issues.
Why does everyone relate this discovery to solar? It seems to me, storage is at least as big of an issue with wind generators as with solar panels. A better title would be "More Efficient Hydrolysis for Energy Storage". It would even work for storing excess energy from the entire power grid. From everything I've heard, it sounds like wind is far better than solar, and don't understand why people even consider solar a ok option.
What really needs to be done with articles like these is to include a cost per kilowatt hour. What will make this the difference between a doctoral thesis and something useful is how it costs compared to other forms of energy.
For example - Solar energy = $0.12 per kW
Conversion of Hydrogen to electricity = 80% efficient
Final Cost = $0.15 per kW
Burning coal = $0.05 per kW
Nuclear = $0.04 per kW
Without the economic factor, this debate is not realistic. As for the limitation and high cost of fossil fuels mentioned in the article, the cost per kW speaks directly against the authors position.
A little more science and less popular, please.
The problem with the cost comparison with coal is that coal burning generates pollution that floats away and someone else has to deal with and is not included in the kwh cost, and as far as nuclear is concerned we won't have any idea what the real cost of nuclear power is until we figure out what to do with the radioactive stuff left over.
Greenhouse gasses are heavier than oxygen right?
And if you listened in 6th grade science the heavier something will be on the bottom. Now assuming this you could safely say that the oxygen would be forced upward therefore killing us all.
There is absolutely no disruption to any kind of cycle, no rivers flowing out of a power plant, or anything of the kind. The fact of the matter is this describes as closed system, as far as the water, hydrogen, and oxygen go. You have 3 storage tanks, for each of the 3 components. During the daytime hours, power is absorbed from the solar panels, and used for electricity and to separate the water in the tank into hydrogen and oxygen. At night, power is generated by recombining the hydrogen and oxygen to recreate the water. So, nothing ever leaves or enters the system except energy...the water / gas cycle is contained.
So, the only issue would be removing water from the "cycle", but the fact of the matter is there's so much water on earth that it'd be difficult to remove enough water to have an impact on anything.
I've never read so much inaccurate comments on an article before in my life.
MIT's project is not even new. Another college, ELIZABETHTOWN COLLEGE, has already done the project, yet lacked the support from the EPA to continue investigation. However, because MIT has a very prestigious name, only THEY get recognized by POPSCIfor their second place efforts. POPSCI, you disgust me.
First of all, porcy, the end product is NOT water. It's water VAPOR.
Second porcy, hydrogen can either be used as a combustible fuel, whose end product is water vapor, or in a fuel cell, which also (due to heat exchange) also returns the product as water vapor.
Ford2go is correct, electrolysis is inefficient. However, he neglects to realize that only the excess solar energy, the power not used by a household or commercial building, will be used to power the electrolysis. However, with such a large energy demand, its more efficient and cheaper to sell back the excess power to one's power company.
Krueger doesn't understand that the reason we don't use battery powered cars, which are very cheap to make, is because of energy density. A tank of petroleum gas is much lighter than batteries and a small amount of oil can create the same amount of power needed to run a 300hp engine than 20 VERY HEAVY batteries can.
The only real problem is gaseous storage. Metal hydrides are great for hydrogen, as a small 14lb tank can store 900 standard liters of hydrogen as a solid, removing all possible hazards of flashbacks.
Lastly, this great process will not affect the world's water supply at all. The amount of water needed to create 900 standard liters of hydrogen is barely anything more than a few ounces of water. Also, in response to Kickstand's ignorance, desalination facilties are already being built to convert ocean water to fresh water. Most are already being powered by alternative fuel sources. And remember, excess water vapor in the atmosphere only creates rain, and in no way can 1 billion cars in the future ever out-do the worlds biggest water vapor generator: the ocean.
Once again, I highly suggest everyone to READ A BOOK before making ignorant statements. Stop using other people's opinion's as your own.
i belive MIT was correct in having a project based hydrogen storage using solar enegy but we shouldn't be using solar panels ,solar thermal is a much more efficient method since you don't have to use enegy to purify silicon and then add precious metals to dope it and solar thermal dosen't have be replaced evey 20 years since it olny uses mirror mad of aluminum to collect the sun's engy. Also while solar may be a good way for clean efficient energy olny fission and fusion power plant will make a hydrogen economy viable.
This concept is certainly not new (as rivcogent points out) and involves a variety of processes and issues that must be addressed in order for this technology to be a feasible replacement to the non-sustainable sources of energy used today. The PosSci article may be overstating certain things while undermining others (from which some confusion arises).
The relevant contribution that the MIT group has made to the overall process is the discovery of a catalyst that is both more efficient and inexpensive than those (mostly Pt-based) catalysts being used today to enhance the process of hydrolysis. The group (like many other working in research related to alternative energy sources) does not claim to have the ultimate answer to the energy crisis nor discusses economic factors other than the fact that their catalyst is cheaper than other widely used ones. They are chemists and therefore focus on the very fundamental processes taking place in a highly technical article published in the Science journal and is aimed at a different, more specialized expert audience. A much better article to understand the overall issue and put this discovery in perspective is available through Science magazine (in an article titled: New Catalyst Marks Major Step in the March Toward Hydrogen Fuel).
To wrap up, any discovery that improves our knowledge with regards to alternative forms of energy should be good news for everyone. As it has been mentioned above, this process will not disrupt the water cycle, neither will it over-oxygenate our planet. It should be considered (possibly in conjunction with fuel cells) as one among many viable forms of renewable energy, including wind, thermal, tidal, etc.
Thank You SimonUP!
I couldn't believe that it took that long for someone to actually read the article thoroughly. I'm glad to see that intelligence still exists, also I hope people aren't afraid to check out the other articles more specific to solar or hydrogen storage options that are available.
Okay I will get slammed for this comment. I am not a science guy or even good with math. Jack Kennedy said, "Let's put a man on the moon and bring him back safely in ten years." He did not say "let's do that and let corporations make billions off the idea, too."
I find it very difficult to believe that this nation cannot solve the problem of an electric car that most people could use every day, improve our electric grid with solar, wind, tidal, and very clean gas/coal at a minimal use, and get at least 50% of us off the internal combustion engine. There must be a reason why we have not solved this major problem..ah..it must have something to do with electing people who are in the pockets of the oil industry.
(Proud owner and rider of an E-bike that gets 1800 mpg - equiv.)
It's funny that by trying to mimic other organisms like plants and trees, we are able to gather insights to possible solutions for some problems or obstacles that we encounter.
Make this happen soon... please. More alternative sources of energy would hopefully transition us from a fossil fuel dependent world to one that is not.
What's next? Hoping for something better soon
In an earlier post, i suggested the possibility of building a Hybrid solar wind turbine. This would incorporate solar cells into the blades of a wind turbine. This would allow its use in areas where either technology might not suffice alone.
I would like to expand on this concept to include the pylon supporting the turbine. L.David Korkia
The most frustrating issue regarding solar power is that most people don't know about the large scale collection of solar power from space. Last month, Popular Science credited the Japanese with the idea of collecting solar power in space, then converting it to radio waves and beaming it to rectennas on earth. In reality, the idea was conceived in the 60's by Dr. Peter Glaser and Boeing Aerospace ran with it in the early 70's, after the first oil embargo. They spent huge sums of money designing and engineering the concept, including a useful, heavy lift shuttle. Their plan was DOE certified. As oil prices came back down, the idea was deemed too expensive to compete and shelved. A very strong proponent - Boeing Aerospace engineer Ralph Nansen - kept pushing for the plan, but was eventually harassed in to silence. He finally wrote a book about the whole system, which is still available on the internet:
"Sun Power - the Global Solution for the Coming Energy Crisis" in 1995. It was, and still is the only "text book" on the whole topic. If the U.S. had implemented this idea in the early 80's, as we well should have, we would now be the most advanced and prosporous country in the world - even more so than we already are.
Instead of storing the leftover power in bulky,expensive batteries, why don't you compress air with it, and use the compressed air foer later use?
So you take hydrogen dioxide and crack it with a little electricity. Shuck the Oxygen, store the hydrogen. Later on, you re-combine it with Oxygen yielding a portion of the energy you put in, and water.
This is a battery. The only variable in the equation is the amount of energy returned. Water is nether created or distroyed. Excess oxygen is not produced, it is 100% recycled.
We don't have a lack of energy, we have a lack of technology to store it.
wow it is amazing to see some of the comments here. I'll be grinnig for days lol. but it is great to see so many minds are thinking about a subject that we all should be thinking about. And i cant wait to see what they come up with next. I'm realy exited about the new storage possibilities and cant wait to learn more. I have never been more exited about the possibilities of alternative energy as i am after reading this article. Go popsci! thank you for keeping us informed!