Saturday, August 2, 2008

Energy Nirvana? "Major Discovery" Could Unleash Solar Power Revolution

Things like this come around every now and again and hardly ever seem to pan out, but these guys are from MIT, have just published in a peer-reviewed journal, and the science looks sound:

Until now, solar power has been a daytime-only energy source, because storing extra solar energy for later use is prohibitively expensive and grossly inefficient. With today's announcement, MIT researchers have hit upon a simple, inexpensive, highly efficient process for storing solar energy.

Requiring nothing but abundant, non-toxic natural materials, this discovery could unlock the most potent, carbon-free energy source of all: the sun. "This is the nirvana of what we've been talking about for years," said MIT's Daniel Nocera, the Henry Dreyfus Professor of Energy at MIT and senior author of a paper describing the work in the July 31 issue of Science. "Solar power has always been a limited, far-off solution. Now we can seriously think about solar power as unlimited and soon."

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.

Overcoming the storage problem of solar power generation has always been the major hurdle to its mass usage. That's exactly what these guys claim to have done. If true, and if the solution is truly as easy and efficient as they say, this will be a real game-changer.

Imagine, each house powering itself with its own solar panels, day or night, sunny or overcast, summer or winter, and getting paid to feed any extra power back into the grid. Electric cars could be run off of this stuff, eliminating the need for environmentally damaging and inefficient batteries, and storing their solar-generated power in efficient fuel cells instead.

Sign me up.

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