In the last month, MIT researchers released a report claiming that they’ve found a new, cost-effective way to store energy from solar electric systems. Essentially, they used electricity produced from photovoltaic panels to split water, separating the hydrogen and oxygen gases to be stored for later use. According to MIT professor Daniel Nocera, one of the researchers on the project, splitting water has been done before. What makes his system so radical is the catalyst used to ignite the process: cobalt phosphate.
Other catalysts used are not widely abundant. Therefore, past processes have been expensive and required too much for land and materials to produce catalysts. Nocera and his colleagues’ discovery is significant, but still young and unproven. Another advantage of their cobalt phosphate catalyst is that it can operate in plain water at atmospheric pressure. This means it could logically work well with any residential solar electric system.
The solar system these men envision would work as follows:
- During the day, PV panels would produce electricity for the home.
- Simultaneously, excess energy would be used to split water into hydrogen and oxygen.
- The efficient, cost-effective catalyst would make this affordable, ideally, for any American home.
- At night, when the panels lay idle, the hydrogen and oxygen would be used to power a fuel cell that would in turn power the home.
The idea stemmed from the natural process of photosynthesis. Nocera claims that his system could enable a reformation of the centralized power grid in which every home could be self-sufficient. The cheaper storage would make off-the-grid systems much more advantageous and efficient. The scientists’ end vision of wide-scale distributed power generation is still just a vision, but they hope that in less than ten years they can have an economically viable process developed. View a detailed summary of the research here.