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'Major discovery' from MIT primed to unleash solar revolution - Comments

flobear's Avatar Comment 1 by flobear

Anyone have any idea how this is different than just electrolyzing water by applying a high voltage?

Fri, 01 Aug 2008 12:24:00 UTC | #211521

Alovrin's Avatar Comment 2 by Alovrin

Electricity-by-wire from a central source could be a thing of the past.


I like that idea.
Houses going off the grid should be encouraged.

How would it work on a larger scale for a factory , skyscraper, city blocks with only highrises..say?

Fri, 01 Aug 2008 12:28:00 UTC | #211523

fizhburn's Avatar Comment 3 by fizhburn

I can already hear the engineering students at my U. cracking their knuckles.

If we're lucky, this process will be picked up by the next American administration as a way to supplement massive increases in wind-power infrastructure.

Skyscrapers and factory roofs can be retrofitted with high-efficiency photovoltaic cells; so long as you don't mind not being able to see out the windows, it's just an engineering problem. No doubt some facilities (vary large skyscrapers, aluminium manufacturers) would continue to buy from the grid.

Fri, 01 Aug 2008 12:39:00 UTC | #211528

theonlybap's Avatar Comment 4 by theonlybap

flobear,

Anyone have any idea how this is different than just electrolyzing water by applying a high voltage?


It seems the new process won't rely on a high voltage of electricity, just a small but steady current running through the electrode provided by the sun. This will also be completely independent of wired electricity for energy. The sun will provide sufficient energy to split the oxygen and hydrogen.

That's how I understand it. Please correct me if I'm wrong.

Fri, 01 Aug 2008 12:47:00 UTC | #211529

Rettet181's Avatar Comment 5 by Rettet181

I really, truly hope that this doesn't fall into obscurity like so many breakthroughs we see in the energy industry.

Fri, 01 Aug 2008 12:55:00 UTC | #211532

k1mgy's Avatar Comment 6 by k1mgy

I am in the solar business and we are anticipating with a change of US maladministrations that there will be something coming out of the crooks and liars running the show to give solar and renewables a boost. But just that.

Think Clinton's "million solar roof" initiative, which was a lot of talk, glossy brochures, and no money to actually implement it. Think more funding to "study", while the technologies to make significant impacts on energy modes are already available off the shelf.

Why give up oil when there are more lands to plunder it from?

I wouldn't look for any support that in any significant way decentralizes the energy infrastructure (transferring it from large utilities to individual homes and communities). "Incentives" will be offered but most will come in the form of utility-based programs for home solar thermal and PV. Exxon may have lost their bid to purchase rights to the sun, but the large corporations have not given up. They will fight to retain their grip by joining the team - as long as they control the playing field. Consumers will pay the corporations one way or another.

Not much to do with topics here at RD land, with the notable exception that science triumphs again.

Fri, 01 Aug 2008 12:58:00 UTC | #211533

phil rimmer's Avatar Comment 7 by phil rimmer

flobear

The process is 37% more efficient (they claim) which is good but other techniques (resonant splitting) have claimed more and failed to deliver.

This looks moderately promising however.

alovrin

Sadly, solar doesn't work well for high rises because of the low useful surface area to volume ratio. A good vertical helical wind turbine on the top would probably produce a lot more power.


Now the Sahara PV project for Europe could benefit from this. Huge solar PV cells could be used to create hydrogen which could then be piped north (and south!) as efficiently as the HVDC cables currently envisaged with the added benefit of storage and innate peak load handling.

Fri, 01 Aug 2008 12:59:00 UTC | #211534

phil rimmer's Avatar Comment 8 by phil rimmer

Whilst riffing here.

Piped seawater could be used to cool the PV elements to improve their efficiency (as well as provide the water "feedstock"). The surplus low grade heat could be used for desalination, the fresh water, in turn being used for cultivating the rest of the desert.

Leaky hydrogen (tiny molecules) would be better contained by running the hydrogen back along the centre of the seawater or output freshwater pipe. Potential ignition hazards are reduced. A loss of water pressure in the outer jacket would curtail hydrogen delivery.

There sorted.

Fizhburn. Don't tell me its not possible. *fingers in ears*

Fri, 01 Aug 2008 13:05:00 UTC | #211536

cerad's Avatar Comment 9 by cerad

Folks, lets try to remember that atheists are expected to exhibit a certain amount of skepticism. Anybody recall cold fusion? Or nuclear power plants generating energy so cheaply that it would be free for all? A slightly more efficient method of generating oxygen and hydrogen with no track record of working outside of the lab is probably not going to change the world anytime soon.

Fri, 01 Aug 2008 13:18:00 UTC | #211540

Don_Quix's Avatar Comment 10 by Don_Quix

I wonder if this could easily be scaled up to industrial-sized applications such as solar or wind power plants, in addition to smaller "off-the-grid" self-powered home applications. If it could, it seems like it would be the perfect solution to most everyday energy needs. When you aren't drawing much power, your home could use its internal system, but when you need more power (such as when the air conditioner comes on), it could supplement the off-the-grid system with electricity from a larger facility using this same technology.

Fri, 01 Aug 2008 13:19:00 UTC | #211541

Hellene's Avatar Comment 11 by Hellene

How is this different from ITM?


http://www.itm-power.com/

Fri, 01 Aug 2008 13:26:00 UTC | #211544

phil rimmer's Avatar Comment 12 by phil rimmer

Hellene.

There are a whole slew of different techniques. We looked at one for the UKAEA, to whit "resonant" dissociation. Mostly the differing techniques gave little advantage or required material consumables or exotic catalysts compared with standard electrolysis.

I'll be checking this out later. I'll report back if there is anything notable.

cerad

http://richarddawkins.net/article,2666,Physicist-Claims-First-Real-Demonstration-of-Cold-Fusion,Phys-Org

Fri, 01 Aug 2008 13:45:00 UTC | #211552

Border Collie's Avatar Comment 13 by Border Collie

Sign me up.

Fri, 01 Aug 2008 14:05:00 UTC | #211555

Rob Schneider's Avatar Comment 14 by Rob Schneider

re: #223116:

It seems the new process won't rely on a high voltage of electricity, just a small but steady current running through the electrode provided by the sun.


Actually, I think we have to buy our own electrodes. :-)

Fri, 01 Aug 2008 14:13:00 UTC | #211558

flobear's Avatar Comment 15 by flobear

phil: Thanks for the explanations.

cerad said:

Folks, lets try to remember that atheists are expected to exhibit a certain amount of skepticism.

True, but we can still be excited and skeptical at the same time.

Fri, 01 Aug 2008 14:25:00 UTC | #211564

Chris Bell's Avatar Comment 16 by Chris Bell

The importance of their discovery cannot be overstated

Are you sure? The article tries pretty hard to do just that.

Fri, 01 Aug 2008 14:26:00 UTC | #211565

GorgeGeorg's Avatar Comment 17 by GorgeGeorg

Lot of HYPE in the title of that article!

This isn't a new form of energy. Only a means of improving the storage of the electrical energy. We'd be better off if we just took the energy and fed it back into/onto the electrical grid to reduce the daytime demand for electricity from the power plants. We wouldn't lose so much energy during the conversion to H2 and then back again. It's unlikely we would be able to produce more energy during the day then we would consume (however, if we did - then we could consider such a storage system).
If you're a home owner feeding the energy back to the power company - best to sell them the electricity during peak times (daytime) then save it for yourself in the evening/night when off peak rates are lower. (Homes only consume about 20-25% of the electrical power).

Fri, 01 Aug 2008 14:41:00 UTC | #211569

MorituriMax's Avatar Comment 18 by MorituriMax

GorgeGeorg, they can have mah 'lectricity when they pry it from mah cold dead electrocuted fingers!

8 )

Fri, 01 Aug 2008 16:04:00 UTC | #211586

mordacious1's Avatar Comment 19 by mordacious1

What affect would this have on peak oil? (slaps on sunscreen and heads for door)

Fri, 01 Aug 2008 18:17:00 UTC | #211613

chuckg's Avatar Comment 20 by chuckg

Comment #223121 by phil rimmer

The process is 37% more efficient (they claim) which is good


This is pretty big, if it is really 37 percent efficient and runs under benign conditions. There's still the problem of gathering and storing the hydrogen, but that's being worked on and pretty good solutions are or will exist. Auto fuel cells will need efficient, light hydrogen storage methods. This is great for people who are (or want to be) far from the electric grid. Photovoltaic technology is about to take off with cheaper, (or) higher efficiency, or hopefully both new polymer film, multilayer, multicolor absorbing units. I can't wait for the solar car that makes hydrogen while you are not driving it, so you may never need a fillup... unless you drive at night.

Fri, 01 Aug 2008 18:25:00 UTC | #211617

theonlybap's Avatar Comment 21 by theonlybap

Beyond Belief,

Ah! What horrible sentence structure I have :-P Thanks for alerting me (albeit indirectly and cleverly) on my mistake.

More or less corrected:
"... just a small but steady current of energy provided by the sun running through an electrode."

Still seems to be a little muddled to me, but I think you guys probably get it.

Fri, 01 Aug 2008 19:31:00 UTC | #211630

Don_Quix's Avatar Comment 22 by Don_Quix

I live in Arizona. Most of the state, especially the southwestern portion between Phoenix and California, is essentially barren, uninhabited, undeveloped desert that gets about 300 or more days a year of constant sunshine. I really don't understand why at least a portion of this incredibly vast area is not filled with solar farms. A good portion of the electricity needs of the southwest US could probably be met using current technology if only a couple of hundred square miles of this state (out of approximately 113,000 square miles) was devoted to harvesting solar energy.

I guess it all comes down to economics. The ability to efficiently store the electricity produced during the day has always been the main obstacle in the past.

I hope this article turns out to be true.

Fri, 01 Aug 2008 19:52:00 UTC | #211638

Sarmatae1's Avatar Comment 23 by Sarmatae1

phil rimmer

"Sadly, solar doesn't work well for high rises because of the low useful surface area to volume ratio. A good vertical helical wind turbine on the top would probably produce a lot more power."

What if all that surface area on a high rise could be harvested and combined with the technology read about above. read this:

http://www.abc.net.au/news/stories/2008/07/11/2300932.htm

Windows that can harvest sunlight. Highrise would maybe get enough to power itself. Plus surplus for sale.
The answer will be congruence of technologies. Not a single innovation. Right place the right time and the right technology will = big $$$. We all win.

Fri, 01 Aug 2008 21:29:00 UTC | #211653

Dowirunem's Avatar Comment 24 by Dowirunem

"Nocera hopes that within 10 years, homeowners will be able to power their homes in daylight through photovoltaic cells, while using excess solar energy to produce hydrogen and oxygen to power their own household fuel cell. Electricity-by-wire from a central source could be a thing of the past. "

This has been a dream of mine for a while now.

So now all that needs to happen is to bring back the fully electric car, and charging that at home with energy from the sun will reduce dependence on fossil fuels that much more.

Fri, 01 Aug 2008 22:51:00 UTC | #211690

stephenray's Avatar Comment 25 by stephenray

Why do you need two catalysts? If one catalyst produces oxygen from water then...erm...what's left is hydrogen.

(You could produce hydrogen leaving hydrogen peroxide, but not the other way around, I think..? IANAC.)

Sat, 02 Aug 2008 01:19:00 UTC | #211719

phil rimmer's Avatar Comment 26 by phil rimmer

OK, the story is you don't actually get hydrogen GAS out of this thing-

Although the catalyst does produce oxygen from water, it does not produce hydrogen gas (H2) that can be burnt in a fuel cell. Instead, water is divided into oxygen gas, positive hydrogen ions, and electrons that are transferred into another circuit.

A second electrode and a different catalyst will be needed to combine those electrons with the hydrogen ion to make hydrogen gas.


The conversion efficiency will go down as a result of this (as yet undeveloped) conversion process.

At present they are claiming a cell electrode voltage drop of 1.6 volt to 1 volt. This number is pro-rata with the cell efficiency (0volts=100% efficiency). The cell they're comparing it to is the standard Pt electrolysis cell which is at least 50% efficient making theirs 87%. This is a much better number that the current best which is 80% and comes with lots of downsides.

This certainly looks like it might go on to solve the problem of renewable energy storage if that second stage can be done efficiently and cheaply.

Edit. Sorry my numbers are wrong, overstated. I'll have to fix them later.

Sat, 02 Aug 2008 03:30:00 UTC | #211749

phil rimmer's Avatar Comment 27 by phil rimmer

Comment #223245 by Sarmatae1

What if all that surface area on a high rise could be harvested


That'll help, but the sun is never in the right position. For a flat surface the amount of power falls off with the cosine of the angle of the sun to the straight ahead position. (Sunsets could be great at a particular time of year and if the atmosphere had been just been "rained clean" of pollutants.) The midday sun, which gives the highest energy density irradiation, sadly shines on the roof.....

Sat, 02 Aug 2008 03:39:00 UTC | #211752

King of NH's Avatar Comment 28 by King of NH

That'll help, but the sun is never in the right position...The midday sun, which gives the highest energy density irradiation, sadly shines on the roof.....


The midday sun only shines on the roof between the tropics. In the farther nothern hemisphere (and presumably southern, though it is less populated and consequently less energy demanding), the winter months bring a large amount of sun to southern exposed buildings. This extra sun is already used to help heat homes. My aunt's house was built to absorb the winter sun through small, but numerous windows while large eaves block the summer sun. A large skyskraper with a good south facing facade of solar panels could significantly decrease it's heating oil requirements. If it only did this well, it could save millions of barrels. But I think it could produce more than just that. Plus, if done well, it could give a very pleasing face lift to some unsightly archtecture.

Sat, 02 Aug 2008 04:20:00 UTC | #211771

Marionette's Avatar Comment 29 by Marionette

Hopefully this will help solar take off.

As for skyscrapers and similar tall buildings, considering the updraft is powerful enough to make rain fall UP (well, not "fall" up, but you know what I mean), I'd like to see horizontal turbines placed along the sides of skyscrapers to take advantage of that updraft.

Combine something like that with an omnidirectional turbine on the top of the skyscraper, plus any solar panels they are able to place on there, and that should help take a bit of their energy load down, though I doubt it would be enough to completely remove it.

Still, a lot of people giving a little bit can add up in a hurry.

Sat, 02 Aug 2008 07:46:00 UTC | #211815

LochRaven's Avatar Comment 30 by LochRaven

The true efficacy of this development will be revealed by correlation with how vociferously the fossil fuel industries bad-mouth it and call it useless. No squawking from them, no meat to the "breakthrough".

Sat, 02 Aug 2008 14:04:00 UTC | #211906