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Researchers say in ten years the discovery could lead to homes that capture solar energy to make hydrogen for power

The main method for getting hydrogen out of water – electrolysis -- has been around for a long time. Electrolysis breaks water into hydrogen and oxygen and is currently used in many industrial processes where hydrogen is needed.

The problem with hydrolysis is that it is not particularly efficient because power is needed to produce the electrical current that breaks the hydrogen and oxygen out of the water. The other issue that makes hydrolysis expensive to perform is that the electrodes used tend to be made from very expensive and precious metals like platinum.

Researchers at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) have developed a new catalyst material that can be used for hydrolysis in water. Rather than expensive metals like platinum, the new material devised at MIT uses cobalt phosphate.

The researchers hope to use the new catalyst material to develop a closed-loop system that can make hydrogen with power gathered from solar energy or other electrical sources. The closed-loop concept would have hydrogen and water running though a fuel cell and the water would be recaptured and used again.

The researchers hope that within ten years the technology will yield a cost-effective system that combines clean energy generation with storage. The new catalyst material can operate in plain water at normal atmospheric pressure.

John turner from the National Renewable Energy Laboratories (NREL) says the work from MIT is a "significant result" reports News.com. Turner goes on to say, "The initial results look promising but it doesn't answer all the things you need in a catalyst."

MIT has patented the research and researchers at MIT in the electrical and mechanical engineering departments have committed to working with the research. Ultimately, the researchers envision a system for use in homes around the world that could be free from the power grid and have the ability to make and store enough power to be self-sufficient.

In late 2007, researchers from Penn State University developed a process for making hydrogen using microbes rather than electricity.





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