Saturday, August 02, 2008

Water into Fuel - MIT Announcement


Water into Fuel

(adapted from a News Release issued by MIT News Office on July 31, 2008)

High Efficiency Water Splitting Electrode

Every once in a while, usually during the "silly season", there comes a report of some “Major Discovery” - that will change the world. The last such announcement that got to me, was the Steorn magnetic generator – the one that didn’t work. I held my breath for a while on that one but my gut told me it was not going to work and change the world.

And then suddenly along comes this blockbuster announcement from MIT – do I feel the same as about the Steorn announcement? No I don’t – I really hope this is a runner.

So here is the story.

In the last few days MIT, an organisation not given to spin and exaggeration, has announced: “a major discovery with enormous implications for the future prosperity of humankind”

In a press release dated 31st July 2008 the statement goes on to say; “MIT researchers Daniel Nocera and Matthew Kanan, have hit upon a simple, inexpensive, highly efficient process for storing solar (or any electrical) energy." “(They) have developed an unprecedented process that will allow the sun's energy (or any other form of electrical power) 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. (It might also be possible to used the gasses to drive specially adapted cars)

The Basis of the Discovery.

The basis of the discovery is a catalyst that produces oxygen gas from water in a highly efficient manner. A second catalyst produces hydrogen. The catalysts consist of cobalt metal, phosphate and an electrode, placed in water. When electricity is fed into the electrode, the cobalt and phosphate form a thin film on the electrode, and oxygen gas is produced.

Daniel Nocera with the Rig

With another catalyst like platinum hydrogen is released from water. A huge advantage is that the process works at room temperature and in pH neutral water. It is also a simple mechanism easy to set up and get working.

Here is what an eminent scientist says about the MIT discovery:

James Barber, Professor of Biochemistry at Imperial College London, called the discovery a "giant leap" – “a major discovery with enormous implications for the future prosperity of humankind,” and said; "The importance of their discovery cannot be overstated since it opens up the door for developing new technologies for energy production thus reducing our dependence for fossil fuels and addressing the global climate change problem."

The process is not new.

Splitting water into the two gasses it is composed of is not a new idea. There have been many efforts in recent years. The problem is that the process to date has been inefficient and difficult to achieve. If this discovery is what it says on the label, it will be a truly major leap forward for clean energy.

Good luck to the project.


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