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MIT chemistry professor Daniel Nocera has devised a novel way of storing solar power using inexpensive materials. He says its the first step to creating a hydrogen generating synthetic "plant", critics say his claims are overstated.   (Source: Christopher Harting )

Professor Nocera imagines a system where solar panels or articial leaves collect solar energy and turn it tinto electricity. From there his catalyst would use the electricity to split water, forming hydrogen fuel.  (Source: Bryan Christie )

Professor Nocera's novel system for hydrogen generation uses cobalt, an inexpensive catalyst previously dismissed due to its high solubility.  (Source: Bryan Christie )
Is Professor Nocera's solar brew a savior or a wishful thinking?

Solar power's efficiency is advancing at a steady rate, and with improvement such as concentrated cells and novel materials the question is not so much if solar can be cheaper than coal power someday, but rather when.  However, when this scenario does eventually arise, solar faces some remaining challenges, the most significant of which is the intermittent nature of the power source. 

In short, without something to store solar power efficiently, it’s infeasible as a primary electric power source.

Batteries and ultracapacitors are frequently discussed as possible means of solar power storage, but they are very expensive.  Other novel storage methods have also been explored, but they seem uncertain prospects at best.  Some scientists point out that there is already a system that takes solar power and stores it -- photosynthesis in plants.

When it comes to imitating nature's hydrogen producing system (remember, sugar is only the secondary product of photosynthesis, driven by the production of the primary product -- hydrogen ions -- from using sunlight's energy to split water), many scientists have tried.  However, the electrocatalysts needed to split water into hydrogen and oxygen are typically even more pricey than batteries.  However, one MIT professor has discovered a possible alternative using cheap materials that he says may help keep the dream of solar power (and solar storage) alive.

Daniel Nocera PhD, a professor of chemistry at MIT, devised a catalyst system using strips of cobalt, nickel, and phosphate, all relatively inexpensive chemical compounds.  By eschewing expensive catalysts like platinum, the cost of the system is kept low.  So why didn't others think of this efficient system?  Well, he says that it is commonly known that cobalt dissolves relatively easy in water, making it typically a poor electrode material, and typically earning it a quick dismissal.  To remedy this, Professor Nocera chose a somewhat creative approach, instead adding dissolved cobalt directly to the solvent and relying on a thin cobalt film which formed on the electrode.

The success of the result surprised even its creator.  He describes, "Here's the luck.  There was no reason for us to expect that just plain cobalt with phosphate, versus cobalt being tied up in one of our complexes, would work this well. I couldn't have predicted it. The stuff that was falling out of the compounds turned out to be what we needed."

Now he is looking to improve upon his lucky break.  He states, "Now we want to understand it.  I want to know why the hell cobalt in this thin film is so active. I may be able to improve it or use a different metal that's better."

However, he also wants to move towards a production system.  He states, confidently, "We were really interested in the basic science. Can we make a catalyst that works efficiently under the conditions of photosynthesis?  The answer now is yes, we can do that. Now we've really got to get to the technology of designing a cell. "

Some are skeptical about Professor Nocera's big claims.  They say that his system is cheap and promising in some respects, but that he is overstating its potential for commercial scale hydrogen production.  By an important metric, the peak efficiency current density (the higher this number, the faster the rate of hydrolysis), his best reported result of 10 milliamps per square centimeter is only a hundredth of the current commercial electrolyzer rate of 1000 milliamps per square centimeter.

Even one of his teachers is taking issue to Professor Nocera's alleged hyperbole; Thomas Meyer, who has been a mentor to Nocera, states, "The claim that this is the answer for artificial photosynthesis is crazy.  [This] could prove technologically important [as a] research finding, [but]  there's no guarantee that it can be scaled up or even made practical."

John Turner, a research fellow at the National Renewable Energy Laboratory in Golden, CO, adds, "At least what he's published so far would never work for a commercial electrolyzer, where the current density is 800 times to 2,000 times greater."

While some say he is wasting his time and should refocus on batteries, Professor Nocera continues his research and his big talk.  He's teaming up with Professor Michael Grätzel of the  École Polytechnique Fédérale in Lausanne, Switzerland to make a full solar cell and catalyst system which produces hydrogen.  Professor Grätzel invented a unique dye that gives off electrons when exposed to sunlight.  Professor Nocera hopes to merge the two inventions to create an artificial, fuel-generating leaf, what he sees as the future of electric power generation.

One thing's for sure -- Professor Nocera's work and rhetoric will likely continue to draw rebukes from colleagues, but it’s hard to argue the temptation of emulating nature's most successful energy fixing design and storing power by a simple equation -- "sun + water = fuel".

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By Gzus666 on 11/24/2008 5:22:23 PM , Rating: 5
I love MIT. Seriously, someone should just throw sacks full of money with $ signs all over them.

RE: Greatness
By UNHchabo on 11/24/2008 5:25:08 PM , Rating: 6
Some people already do. It's called "tuition".

RE: Greatness
By Gzus666 on 11/24/2008 5:27:14 PM , Rating: 4
I highly doubt their tuition is sent in sacks with $ on them. If they did though, that would be quite sweet.

RE: Greatness
By quiksilvr on 11/24/2008 6:56:32 PM , Rating: 2
Have you SEEN how much it costs to go to MIT? They practically do have $ signs on them.

RE: Greatness
By DaveLessnau on 11/24/2008 8:11:00 PM , Rating: 3
Just for informational purposes:

Undergraduate Tuition and Living Expenses

Nine months' tuition for 2007–2008 is $34,750; a Student Activity Fee of $236 increases the total to $34,986. In addition, undergraduate room and board is approximately $10,400, with actual costs dependent on the student's housing and dining arrangements. Books and personal expenses (including clothes, laundry, and recreation, but excluding travel) are about $2,800.,

That's from:

I don't see any mention of resident vs non-resident rates. I also assume the numbers are a bit bigger for the 2008-2008 school year.

RE: Greatness
By jeff834 on 11/24/2008 10:09:01 PM , Rating: 4
As far as I know private schools don't differentiate between residents and non residents. As for how expensive the school is $45,000 a year is high, but not outrageous for an elite school. I personally went to Boston University right across the river from MIT (applied to MIT, didn't get in), which in my freshman year (99-00) was $34,000 or so grand total. I would bet now it's probably at or over $45k. They were pretty generous with scholarships and such (I got half tuition), just about everyone in the engineering department had some kind of grant/scholarship money.

RE: Greatness
By Solandri on 11/25/2008 3:03:11 AM , Rating: 2
MIT was ~$21k/yr when I was there as a grad student (94-96). So it's been going up a bit more than 5% a year.

Dunno about undergrad, but I know most of the grad students had some form of assistance, be it grants, scholarships, or an RA/TA. I want to say about 60%-70%, but that's just the number which pops into my head. I can't recall for sure - I think I read it in The Tech while I was there. I was a full-RA, which paid all of my tuition and gave me a small stipend of about $1300/mo. If you're qualified, they will bend over backwards to make sure you can attend. Some departments have more money too, so what major you decide to go for does affect your chances of getting financial aid.

A friend of mine went to BU my last year, which had the ignominy of being the most expensive school in the U.S. at the time - around $32k IIRC. It made me think MIT was a bargain in comparison.

RE: Greatness
By nstott on 11/25/2008 1:41:21 AM , Rating: 3
I don't see any mention of resident vs non-resident rates. I also assume the numbers are a bit bigger for the 2008-2008 school year.

MIT is a private institution, so there aren't separate rates.

RE: Greatness
By Chemical Chris on 11/25/2008 3:10:24 PM , Rating: 3
Whenever I complain about my tuition, I just think of the states, and feel better. Thank god I live in Canada, where even though tuition isnt free (it should be, in all countries, for reasons too detailed to get into here), it is heavily subsidized. I pay about ~$5500/yr (Im third year undergrad in Biochem).
Im currently considering doing a masters, as many of my profs and TA's have told me I should, and it gets much better then, as one can get NSERC support (tuition paid for, monthly stipend of $1-2k a month), which isnt bad.
Basically, undergrads are treated like crap, only once you prove your ability and become a grad student are you treated with respect, and the financial onus largely removed.
But nearly 40 grand a year for post-secondary! No wonder there is such a large gap (and growing) between the haves and have nots; by denying post secondary education, you are creating a society of rich and poor, with no middle class. And those that do manage to work up to a College degree, spend the rest of their life paying it back, meaning only their children will have half a chance at 'the american dream'. Sickening.
In the old days, the people were kept in line by severe means; threats, enforced poverty and total lack of education. Now, they just raise the price so only the 'social elite' can rise above, everyone else is kept in the low class as the price of getting out is just too high.
It just makes me so mad.



RE: Greatness
By masher2 on 11/25/2008 4:13:31 PM , Rating: 1
> "by denying post secondary education, you are creating a society of rich and poor"

No one is "denied" a post-secondary education -- they're simply being denied one at MIT. Anyone who gets accepted to a public university can afford to go, between all the various scholarships, grants, and loans offered.

Even for private universities like MIT, a substantial number of their students are attending either free or close to it. The bar is much higher, obviously -- but if you score well enough to make MIT "want" you, your tuition will be the last of your worries.

An entirely free education for any and all seems to have been a very poor policy. The largest problem in any public high school in America is simply keeping students to hang around long enough to graduate. People respect what they have to work for. I suspect that, were we to make college literally 'free', it would treated with the same lack of respect.

RE: Greatness
By jeff834 on 11/25/2008 9:57:23 PM , Rating: 1
Plenty of affordable places to go in the US definitely. I wasn't able to get into MIT, and I had scores and grades higher than a girl in my graduating class who did, but I was offered free tuition and room and board at both Rutgers University and The College of New Jersey. I just didn't want to go to either of those schools. There isn't really any financial reason people can't get a college education if they want it enough.

RE: Greatness
By nstott on 11/25/2008 7:22:05 PM , Rating: 2
MIT paid my tuition and gave me a monthly stipend for living expenses in grad school, but it wasn't for free. I worked my ass off to get into there. I come from a (lower) middle-class family and, therefore, didn't buy my way in. My in-state tuition for undergrad was around $2,000 a year (starting in 1991) at the University of Arizona, but I had a scholarship that paid it in addition to a scholarship for living expenses and Pell Grants. So, please, you can keep your Canadian education. Although, if you want free education and even free reeducation, move to North Korea where you will learn the real meaning of being "kept in line by severe means; threats, enforced poverty..."


RE: Greatness
By Belegost on 11/25/2008 8:06:42 PM , Rating: 2
Wait, what?

As pointed out, MIT is a private school, they are free to charge whatever they would like. That in no way precludes the existence of publicly funded universities - and, in fact, there are many in the US.

I did my undergraduate work in EE at UCSD, a highly regarded school for engineering internationally. Currently I believe in-state undergraduate fees amount to about 7,500/year plus an additional 7k for housing. The fees are also the same for attending UC Berkeley, which is a school generally considered to have the same high reputation as MIT in science and engineering.

"Basically, undergrads are treated like crap, only once you prove your ability and become a grad student are you treated with respect, and the financial onus largely removed."

Yes. Exactly. Part of the point of the undergraduate program is to be a test of the student's will to succeed. This is why large percentages of starting undergrads never finish, they lack the motivation and discipline needed. It only makes sense to reward someone AFTER they have proven worthy of the reward.

"tuition isnt free (it should be, in all countries, for reasons too detailed to get into here)"

Oh boy, I'm giggling like a school girl just thinking about that one. I'm sorry, I've seen way too many students who have free rides to agree to that. When something is given to you, it becomes commonplace, something to be assumed rather than earned. This breeds laziness and apathy.

Going through the undergrad program I saw a lot of my peers, who had parents paying the bills, goof off and waste their time, ultimately failing out of the program, or barely managing to graduate.

Meanwhile the people who paid their own way (like myself) tended to be far more serious about what they were doing. Perhaps it was the reminder that each lecture I skipped was $100 of my money gone, never to return. And had I failed a class, the cost would have been thousands of dollars. That is a definite motivating agent.

"by denying post secondary education, you are creating a society of rich and poor, with no middle class."

<sarcasm> I'm glad my dad is a highly important car painter; I can't imagine being denied my college degree.</sarcasm>

This is where your ignorance of the US university systems leads you to make asinine comments. There is no real barrier to a university degree in the US. There are community college systems in most places that allow students with poor prior academic performance to improve and transfer to a university. There are a variety of financial aid programs funded by the government that pay for many students. Most public universities are rather inexpensive. (My sister attends a Cal State university, her yearly fees are around $3000.)

" And those that do manage to work up to a College degree, spend the rest of their life paying it back"

I have about 25k in student loans to pay back for my undergraduate work. Since I was quite successful as an undergrad, my current graduate work is being entirely funded on fellowship, which further pays me $25k/year stipend. I'm hardly going to spend a lifetime paying back my school costs.

What the US system does do: separate people based on motivation - a separation between "do" and "do nots" so to speak. If you have the will and tenacity to struggle through the hard parts, you will be rewarded, and because of this, those that get through will earn something valuable - when I get that PhD certificate I will have proof of my ability to perform at a level above the wide majority of people. (To be honest, these days a BA/BS degree is so easy to get in the US that it's become about as valuable as a high school diploma - just something you are expected to have.)

RE: Greatness
By luhar on 12/15/2008 1:23:43 PM , Rating: 2
Just to add some more info to the tuition discussion. MIT will waive tuition (still require some work-study I believe) for all students who's families earn less than $75k a year.

I was there from 90-94 and most people I knew had some sort of aid. I believe the numbers have increased now. More and more of their costs are being covered by endowments. However, I don't know what the financial situation is given the market these days.


RE: Greatness
By nstott on 11/25/2008 1:38:00 AM , Rating: 2
I highly doubt their tuition is sent in sacks with $ on them. If they did though, that would be quite sweet.

That's actually how we paid it. They don't take credit card payments, which totally sucked.


P.S. Dan Nocera is so hyper it's like he's on crack, but he's not. He has a lot of brilliance to go along with his optimism, so this research will likely go somewhere despite the naysayers.

RE: Greatness
By Belegost on 11/25/2008 8:07:33 PM , Rating: 2
I'm glad UCSD isn't the only place that forces fee payments in cash...

RE: Greatness
By nstott on 11/25/2008 10:32:27 PM , Rating: 2
Oh, but that's just the beginning. MIT is a wacky place where cutting-edge technology is developed under a backwards, technology-adverse administration of primordial throwbacks.

The on-campus housing lottery when I was first there consisted of students filling out a form with their top three housing choices and the housing office then transferring those choices to index cards. Then, they tried to organize the cards on the top of a desk based on available housing and the choices of the students. The "system" finally broke down and the results were extremely delayed, so they let some "youngster" who did his PhD work at Princeton on creating digital databases make a computer program that used an algorithm to maximize receipt of desired housing and generated the results within a few seconds.

I had to pay my rent every month in person by cash or check, and we had to do course registration by hard copy with required signatures after pre-registration over the Internet. During undergrad at the University of Arizona, I paid my rent by credit card and registered for classes over the phone. It could all be done by phone or over the Internet by the time I graduated.

The technological backwardness of the MIT administration was a total shock. The first month there, my wife kept on saying to me, "This is MIT?!"

RE: Greatness
By Connoisseur on 11/24/2008 5:45:47 PM , Rating: 2
From what i'm told by a buddy who did undergrad and grad at MIT: The school has so much money and their financial managers are so good that they could technically afford to send their students to school for free. But they still charge tuition :P I'd say that's bag-fuls of money more or less. Dunno how much that's changed in the current financial climate.

RE: Greatness
By Meinolf on 11/26/2008 1:53:45 PM , Rating: 2
But how can the Government tax this that is the question. Nothing is Free any more not even the suns power.

By Natfly on 11/24/2008 6:39:18 PM , Rating: 2
Electrolysis? Is that basically what this is or am I missing something?

RE: So...
By herm0016 on 11/24/2008 7:53:17 PM , Rating: 2
nope. you are not missing anything. its still sun > electricity> electrolysis > hydrogen and oxygen for storage of energy.

we have been able to do this for at least as long as we have had Lydian jars (100's of years) he is just using a different catalyst on the electrodes.

RE: So...
By Solandri on 11/24/2008 7:59:10 PM , Rating: 1
Yes, but using cathodes and anodes made of cheap materials, rather than gold or platinum.

IMHO it's not that big a deal. The big problem with hydrogen as an energy storage medium is that elemental hydrogen is a notoriously difficult material to work with. It has very low volumetric density, so you have to compress it or chill it to cryogenic temperatures to get a reasonable amount of energy into a small space. And even then, because H2 molecules are so small, a pipe or connector which is watertight may leak hydrogen like a sieve.

That's the reason photosynthesis results in sugar instead of gaseous hydrogen. Sugar (and its derivatives, like petroleum) is much more manageable, and thus make better batteries. More and more I'm starting to think photovoltaic cells as a means of harnessing solar power are a dead end. Biofuels (which use plants to collect the sunlight, and store the energy in sugars which we convert into alcohols and petroleums) are more and more starting to look like the "solution" to the battery problem. PV will still be useful in low-current applications or places where refueling is difficult (e.g. satellites), but not anything which requires so much electricity that you have to store large amounts of it in batteries.

RE: So...
By paydirt on 11/25/2008 9:31:26 AM , Rating: 2
this "cheap materials" argument doesn't hold much weight, IMO. If suddenly you had the whole world using a system with these materials, then DEMAND for those materials would skyrocket from current levels sending PRICES much higher.

Kinda like the dumb argument by Boone Pickens that we should use natural gas in cars. If we did, demand for nat gas would be MUCH higher and the price of it would go WAY UP--which Pickens wants to happen because he owns the mineral rights to the massive nat gas deposits in Texas.

RE: So...
By Bongwater on 11/26/2008 8:41:16 AM , Rating: 2
Actually, the cheap materials argument does hold, when you look at the alternatives. Platinum, which is currently used for commercial electrolysers, is already expensive and a rare element. Cobalt on the other hand, is among the most abundant metals in the earth's crust. It should take some time before we run out of that.

RE: So...
By Schrag4 on 11/25/2008 5:39:47 PM , Rating: 2
More and more I'm starting to think photovoltaic cells as a means of harnessing solar power are a dead end. Biofuels (which use plants to collect the sunlight, and store the energy in sugars which we convert into alcohols and petroleums) are more and more starting to look like the "solution" to the battery problem.

I totally agree with you. Nature has already perfected the process of storing energy from the sun, why not use it? Especially exciting, to me anyway, are the recent articles about bacteria that can turn plant waste basically straight into diesel or gasoline, ready to use in today's vehicles. And of course any solution we come up with needs to make it on its own or else it's not worth it (no gov subsidies).

RE: So...
By Lugaidster on 11/26/2008 12:49:46 AM , Rating: 2
you need the subsidies, otherwise why would a company risk money on new technologies. Oil and carbon didn't have competition when they appeared. Today they are to big to let free market determine the winner before a crisis appears.

To put it in other words, unless we give money to research and subsidize alternatives we will just have to wait for oil and electricity prices to be so high that most won't be able to pay them.

Don't blame the subsidies, blame the subsidizers for making bad choices.

RE: So...
By nstott on 11/26/2008 2:06:13 AM , Rating: 1
Companies and venture capitalists risk money on new technologies without government subsidies because they have hope for profit in the future. This also promotes less money being waisted on corporate R&D that show little promise of economic feasibility. Free market capitalism has been the greatest economic force for technological innovation and advancement more so than any other.

Oil and coal did have competition as energy sources when they appeared. For example, windmills were around long before oil and coal were used for power. Windmills were replaced because oil and coal had certain advantages.

I blame crypto-communist educators who teach patently false versions of history and economics. It seems you could use some lessons from ringold and masher.

RE: So...
By nstott on 11/26/2008 2:37:24 AM , Rating: 2
On second thought: oil and coal compared to wind used as a power source was probably a sticky example to bring up. Windmills were used for pumping water and grinding grain before oil and coal were used in steam engines, but coal has been used to heat for much longer. Both fossil fuel-powered steam engines and windmills were used to generate electricity around the same time after the invention of the electric motor, so that is perhaps a better example. Fossil fuels were chosen over wind for electrical power generation due to certain advantages.

RE: So...
By Lugaidster on 11/26/2008 9:20:07 AM , Rating: 2
While most of the time I would agree with you, this just isn't the case. If you hadn't non-profit organizations working on nuclear fusion power generation we wouldn't know anything of it. There are alternatives that need time, time that investors aren't willing to wait in light of better immediate alternatives.

You might have more knowledge on the subject, and I do agree that I could use a little reading on certain principles. But you still have to see that sometimes you do need subsidies. I just believe that for some technologies, that is the case.

You do have to remember that oil and coal have hundreds of year in the market and they have the backup of multi-million dollar companies. Usually, these companies would rather put money on lobbists pockets to convince that you need nothing more than use it to research alternatives.

RE: So...
By Ringold on 11/26/2008 4:50:04 PM , Rating: 2
You bring up fusion; thats one thing. Government money pretty much has to be involved in development of technologies with no hope for profit for decades on in to the future.

However, you can argue as much as you want about renewable energy subsidies. The fact is that some entrepeneurs and people running existing and growing renewable energy firms (such as solar panel manufacturers or a wind turbine manufacturer) are already on the record denouncing the subsidies. They point out that profitability for some companies has already been attained, private investors are already happily giving them billions of dollars, and that subsidies at this point merely prop up weak competitors instead of allowing the true winners to rise to the top. Silly things also end up happening, like Germany installing tons of solar panels, raising global costs and keeping much sunnier locations from expanding as much themselves. Thats of course predictable; government intervention always leads to misallocation of resources.

It also doesn't matter that much how long coal and oil has been around. All that matters is cost. Beat coal, and do so while also performing in other key areas of consideration (such as reliability, etc), and in the long run it doesn't matter how long a company has been around. Google's running circles around Microsoft, it didn't matter that Google only recently got the governments ear. All that matters is that its search engine is more pleasing.

Not sure why it matters how "big" oil companies are. First of all, many of them have business units making break throughs in various renewable technologies themselves. Second of all, the road of history is littered with former giants rendered by young upstarts.

You also say not to blame the subsidies but instead the subsidizers for not picking the proper winner.. Here, you show you fundamentally don't understand what process the free market is meant to carry out. It's impossible to pick the proper winner ahead of time. The market is the ultimate acid test at determining what most efficiently meets the needs of the market. That's the basic advantage of free markets.. Instead of a government committee trying to understand everything about every business, relationships between them, needs, wants, products, etc, decision making is instead distributed.

RE: So...
By nstott on 11/26/2008 7:18:30 PM , Rating: 2
I'm all for funding R&D through government grants, which includes research on nuclear fusion. I'm against government subsidies to prop up companies selling products that are not profitable (Although I think tax breaks for developing businesses are good). Research grants and subsidies are not the same thing.

Many fossil fuel companies also spend a lot of R&D on alternative energies. Energy is energy to them. Once it becomes profitable, energy companies want to make money off of it.

Oil Companies Promote Alternative Energy

Shell Quadruples Renewable Energy Project Spending

BP: Alternative Energy

Oh, and all of the oil lobbyists explain why we've been drilling in ANWR. Oh yeah, we haven't been...

RE: So...
By Davelo on 12/1/2008 10:27:53 PM , Rating: 2
Bob Lazar (of Area51 fame) figured out a solution to the hydrogen storage problem. Unfortunately, the storage medium uses lithium-6 deuteride which is classified as a nuclear weapon chemical so it cannot be sold or bought.

RE: So...
By randomly on 11/24/2008 8:03:02 PM , Rating: 2
Yes it's electrolysis.

The problem is electrolysis sucks for energy efficiency at only around 50%. This makes it noncompetitive as a fuel storage/transport medium. By the time you pull the energy out with a fuel cell you have lost 75% of your starting energy in the process. This makes it 4x more expensive than the original cost of the electricity. Modern battery chemistries on the other hand are better than 90% efficient as an energy storage medium.

There is currently no cost competitive way to produce hydrogen other than reforming natural gas.

Without an economical source of hydrogen that does not use fossil fuels a hydrogen economy makes no sense.

The only good candidate for cost effective hydrogen production is very high temperature nuclear reactors using the Sulfer/Iodine cycle. That's 20-30 years away from commercial deployment. At least.

He's trying to improve the efficiency of electrolysis to make it more efficient and thus cost competitive as an energy storage medium.

RE: So...
By FishTankX on 11/25/2008 2:40:28 AM , Rating: 2
Actually, not entirely true.
The significance of his breakthrough is that he can achieve electrolysis without using expensive catalysts like platinum and such. This allows for much cheaper electrolyzers, allowing much cheaper hydrogen stations, in theory.
Normal hydrogen stations have to have their tanks made out of the same metals as the electrodes and have to use expensive catalysts. Not very cheap.
However, with the hydrogen generation per surface area so abysmally low, even if it's 100x cheaper per catalyst, it's still going to be 8x-10x more expensive, at current efficencies/rates.
GM was trying to do the same thing with their plastic tank electrolyzer, if I do remember correctly.

RE: So...
By Suntan on 11/25/2008 1:39:00 PM , Rating: 2
Normal hydrogen stations have to have their tanks made out of the same metals as the electrodes and have to use expensive catalysts. Not very cheap.

Odd, that's not how we did it in college. We just dipped an electrode and an anode into a pirex glass of water (laced with acid to make it more conductive.) Your talking fud if you think you need a tank made of platnum for electrolysis.


RE: So...
By Solandri on 11/25/2008 8:39:07 PM , Rating: 2
The rate at which you're driving the electrolysis depends partly on the surface area of the exposed metals. So either you dip big platinum sheets into the solution (sheet = lots of surface area), or you use the same amount of platinum to line the inside of the tank. The latter setup is generally cleaner and less prone to short circuiting. So no you don't have to use tanks made out of the metal, but it's usually the most cost- and time-efficient if you do.

RE: So...
By FishTankX on 11/26/2008 7:50:02 AM , Rating: 2
The thing is, when you use other catalysts for the electrolysis, they degrade. Some more rapidly than others. As far as I know, platinum does not degrade in electrolysis.

And I'm sorry, I mis spoke

When I said that I was misinterpreting what I read.

Infact, a big part of the capital costs that make the electrolyzers expensive is the need to build alot of the machines out of metal that is resistant to the strongly alkaline sollutios used in the electrolyzing process.

The new GM system, refrenced in the article in which I misinterpreted the information, uses a plastic that fits the bill just as well.

However, i'm not sure if this breakthrough negates the need to use platinum as a catalyst. However, the GM breakthrough certainley brings down the capital costs to build comercial electroloyzers.

RE: So...
By Bongwater on 11/26/2008 9:02:34 AM , Rating: 2
The problem is electrolysis sucks for energy efficiency at only around 50%.

OK, fine. If we can have a type of solar cell that has close to 20% energy conversion efficiency, and couple that to an electrolyzer, we still get a total efficiency of close to 10%. The Gratzel cells are cheap and stable, and their efficiencies are getting close to 20%. All the b.s. about losing 75% etc. doesn't matter. As long as you have sustainable fuel production out of solar and water, with higher efficiency than photosynthetic biomass production, that is all you need.

RE: So...
By Suntan on 11/26/2008 1:34:40 PM , Rating: 2
So it doesn't matter that we have to cover 95% of the land with solar cells to make up for the inefficiencies because 1% of free sun is still free? Sorry, I do like trees and grass too.


RE: So...
By Natfly on 11/26/2008 4:23:11 PM , Rating: 2
Right, as long as it is cheap enough, and sustainable. Even at 1% efficiency you wouldn't need 95% of the land, and who says we need to use 100% solar anyway. The point of all this is that you put your solar capturing devices where it works best, deserts or wherever, and by converting it into hydrogen you can take it to where the energy is needed.

RE: So...
By Bongwater on 11/27/2008 2:19:55 AM , Rating: 2
95% of the land?! Where did you get that number? Actually, only 2% of the land is needed at an efficiency of 10%.
The problem with biofuels is that not only is photosynthesis inefficient, but the biomass you get (trees, sugarcane etc) has to be refined before you use it as fuel, making the efficiency even worse. *And* when you grow the crops used for biofuels you still have to wait for them to, well, grow. With direct hydrogen production from solar, on the other hand, you will have the product instantly.

Production vs Storage
By DaveLessnau on 11/24/2008 8:03:29 PM , Rating: 3
I wasn't even aware that electrolysis ( production of hydrogen) was a problem. I always thought that the problem was the storage of hydrogen.

RE: Production vs Storage
By Master Kenobi on 11/25/2008 7:09:13 AM , Rating: 2
Production still isn't cost effective on a large scale. That's what still holds hydrogen back.

RE: Production vs Storage
By snownpaint on 11/25/2008 11:21:52 AM , Rating: 2
Nuclear, gen. 3-4 reactors. Abundant electricity and lots of Hydrogen to boot..

I like seeing things like this.. Simple demonstrations like this is what new directions in technology are based on. Many may scoff at it now.. However, some kid reads about it in a book and does it a different way. Some cheap Cobalt Alloy held in porous ceramic, and boom, the idea become feasible and able to be mass produced, changing energy storage and energy production.

Examples: Faraday's Magnetic experiments(crude-motor), Bell labs First Transistor, Marconi's Radio. They were all very crude in design and looked terrible to prove a concept, but after it was proven, it was refined, improved, and now amazing and world changing. I do believe that with the largest resource on this planet, water; we will one day find a clean, viable method of energy and storage.

That is what life does; gather up, use and store the suns energy on earth.

Topic should read:
By Hieyeck on 11/25/2008 3:22:52 AM , Rating: 1
"Global warming leads to cheaper solar cells."
(To preempt the whoosh: )

OK, seriously. Anyone else REALLY put off by the title? The entire article is about cost-efficient hydrogen production via electrolysis, with the potential application of converting solar energy.

How is this in the least bit a solar breakthrough...? It's not like you couldn't hook up the electrolysis to say... a nuclear plant.

Wait, never mind, I just read the author.

RE: Topic should read:
By jRaskell on 11/25/2008 12:36:29 PM , Rating: 2
I think the title is perfectly fine. It appears that you only read the two words Solar Breakthrough, and completely ignored the rest of it.

RE: Topic should read:
By Hieyeck on 11/26/2008 9:12:27 AM , Rating: 2
There's a difference between "solar breakthrough" and "breakthrough that makes solar look better".

Solar fuels critical for future
By strn on 11/28/2008 8:13:49 AM , Rating: 3
I have followed Nocera´s work the last months. It is a most exiting development in the developing field of SOLAR FUELS where scientists try make a renewable fuel from solar energy and water. Presently there are only a few ideas how to manage this on the planet. On is based on water electrolysis using solar energy - this is Nocera´s and his collaborators vision and field. A second is based on using photosynthetic micro-organisms. Either grenn algae or cyanobacteria can be used and many believe in this science. A third is to attempt molecular chemistry to mimic natural photosynthesis using manganese and iron based catalysts that are driven by solar energy - this is often called artificial photosynthesis. A forth field is using heat to split water directly at very high temperatures on an active metal surface. Which of these fields will develop faster or will become the winner is way to early to say - the science has barely started and there are too few scientists and ideas around to decide today. Funding of a broad spectrum of science is critical in the field of solar fuels.

Have a look at the science carried out by the Swedish Consortium for Artificial Photosynthesis which has an interesting small booklet about their science to be found at the link below.$FILE/ET2007_54W.pdf?OpenElement

RE: Solar fuels critical for future
By strn on 11/28/2008 8:29:09 AM , Rating: 2
..a better link is this one, dirctly to the Consortium for Artificial Photosynthesis in Sweden.

Its a great scenario
By Floorbit on 11/25/2008 9:55:33 AM , Rating: 2
I saw this type of schematic in a set of inventions encyclopias purchased in the early 90s. Its not 'how'he does what he does that I wish to comment on. But 'what'he does and as to the schematic showing the hybrid vehicle there.
Most of the equipment is already available to utilize. The question of using 'hydrogen'- its storage. Is also a good 'how'question. With plenty of implementable answers.
If you look at the technic of the 'writing'of this story. Its ideal is to premise that this is not feasible since it is not 'commercially'acheivable. Well the conflict is not there. Since it does not have to be done whole,as a totally monolistic entity.
Its consideration of feasable,would probably share more integrity if it was considered at the very least habitable unit scale.
Then for color,you could look at the situation between the early electrical systems AC-DC etc.The tumult there from patent problems to financial meltdowns. Little said of course of the new technology to be the cause. However you do not especially see big names such as 'GE'putting your roof on for example. The science is there but it is not practicle to them given their structure of present manufacturing asset.
This is a really 'good'idea. Those that truly know about it,are getting a little shaky to let loose of some conventional risk. To consider the potential of this one.
Im thinking for myself here. And this is a type of system that is in and of itself a 'new resource'. Where certainly the positives out weigh the negatives. Even for the most conservative of us.
This type of design deserves our support. When the 'how'of its schematic only improves on the designs future implementation. With what can be implemented at present.

RE: Its a great scenario
By mmcdonalataocdotgov on 11/25/2008 12:59:27 PM , Rating: 2
Egads, what language was that you were writing in?

sounds familiar
By teraflop1 on 11/24/2008 5:34:53 PM , Rating: 2
i think this clone of Zor may make the protoculture matrix after all...

a Solar Grand plan
By majBUZZ on 11/25/2008 5:44:50 PM , Rating: 2
I like the way they ( scientific american ) proposed a compressed air storage for the night time generation of power. But instead of relying on caves/ground, I wonder if massive amounts of huge storage tanks would be more practical.

By Chipper Smoltz DT on 12/1/2008 7:38:00 AM , Rating: 2
Wait, if my memory of the way photosynthesis is supposed to work on plants or trees, I believe that for trees, they use both the water and the sunlight in order to grow bigger and grow more leaves and branches in the process. But, what happens if the trees are already full grown? Where does these things that the trees use go to - is it stored somewhere in the trunk? In the form of what? Maybe we could mimic the way plants and trees do store those things - water and sunlight - when they are already full grown - for fruit production, I suppose?! Sorry just some of my crazy ideas but I hope this helps.

Potato Clock
By Lord 666 on 11/24/2008 5:36:48 PM , Rating: 1
Just throw in some copper and zinc leads into that "snythetic plant" and electricity would be generated anyway aka "potato clock" style.

“So far we have not seen a single Android device that does not infringe on our patents." -- Microsoft General Counsel Brad Smith

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