Dr. David Nocera, a Henry Dreyfus Professor of Energy at MIT and senior author of a paper published in the prestigious journal Science, titled “In Situ Formation of an Oxygen-Evolving Catalyst in Neutral Water Containing Phosphate and Co2+” has developed a simple procedure that could initiate a solar revolution. Dr. Nocera is the creator and director of "the Solar Revolution Project."
According to Nocera, a solar revolution may what his new process may spark. This is because his new process is easy, simple to implement, and very affordable. Solar energy can finally be completely harnessed when this procedure gets fully developed commercially.
Currently, you can use solar power only during daytime. This is because there are no efficient means to store the energy “extracted” from the sunlight. Basically, if you need to store solar energy for using it at night you could not practically do it because the procedures to preserve solar energy (at night) are not efficient and are very expensive.
This could change according to the Science paper. Dr. Nocera’s has developed a new method to overcome the hurdle of not being able to store solar energy by using a catalyst made of cobalt and phosphate.
When electricity runs through a cell containing a catalyst containing cobalt and phosphate and a platinum electrode, water can be broken into oxygen and hydrogen. The electricity needed for the process may come from an energy cell (photovoltaic cell) powered by sunlight during daytime. Finally, if hydrogen and oxygen are properly stored and used later (at night for example), then, water could be reassembled (from stored hydrogen and oxygen) in a fuel cell, and energy “produced” again.
According to the study, the new MIT process is efficient in breaking down water into hydrogen and oxygen gases. Then, oxygen and hydrogen molecules are recombined in a fuel cell to generate new carbon-free electricity. This energy could be used at night for example. So, the new MIT study seems to have bypassed one of the main obstacles in developing solar energy usage.
Up to now, there are not inexpensive hydrogen fuel cells (devices that split water into oxygen and hydrogen). But, Nocera’s new development may some day find itself into commercial development and find practical and inexpensive uses in the near future.