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Solar & Alternative Energy

Breakthrough could enable solar energy storage

The fuel of the future could be hydrogen -- if it can be made cheaply enough. Currently, electrolyzers (machines that split water into its constituent hydrogen and oxygen) need a catalyst, namely platinum, to run; ditto fuel cells to recombine that hydrogen with oxygen, which produces electricity.

Researchers from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and Monash University in Australia report in Science that they may have a cost-effective solution to the need for expensive platinum.

Chemist Daniel Nocera, head of the M.I.T.'s Solar Revolution Project, focused on one side of the equation: splitting water into its constituent hydrogen and oxygen molecules. Nocera and postdoctoral fellow Matthew Kanan discovered it could be accomplished by simply adding cobalt and phosphate to water and running a current through it. In contrast to platinum, cobalt and phosphate cost roughly $2.25 an ounce and $.05 an ounce, respectively.

Nocera and Kanan 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.

Full story from Scientific American.

Press release from MIT.