Friday, August 01, 2008

Breakthrough in solar energy storage

Breakthrough in solar energy storage, article.
"MIT researchers have overcome a major barrier to large-scale solar power: storing energy for use when the sun doesn't shine."

Like I've said before, in my ole age I've become sceptical about what I read in science magazines, because after decades I've pretty much yet to see any of the amazing science fiction actually hit the street. Still, this sounds promising.

posted by Eolake Stobblehouse @ Friday, August 01, 2008   13 comments links to this post

13 Comments:

At 1 Aug 2008, 02:08:00, Blogger Alex said...

Hmm, in the old days if you passed a current through water you got hydrogen and oxygen. Now there is a new discovery, you can get both hydrogen and oxygen if you pass electricity through water!

That has to be a very badly written article. The key is that a new catalyst has been found. They seem to make it sound like a whole new principle has been discovered.

Then they don't mention anything about how more efficient this is than just two electrodes in a Hoffman voltameter.

No wonder you don't trust scientific articles.

 
At 1 Aug 2008, 02:17:00, Blogger Alex said...

This article talks about a photo chemical, not an electrochemical splitting of water...

 
At 1 Aug 2008, 02:43:00, Blogger Dibutil Ftalat said...

Ow! Wow! In addition to the recent articles about a car invented that runs on pure tap water we shall see a golden era soon!

EVEN if they did find some kind of `magic` catalyst that in combination with platinum makes possible to photo-split water, the thermal efficiency of such `reservoir` would be very low and problems with catalyst contamination will be tremendous.

Call me a skeptic.

 
At 1 Aug 2008, 03:25:00, Blogger eolake said...

You're a skeptic.

I don't unnderstan all the fancy stuff, but "MIT" impressed me. Ah'm just an ole country boy.

 
At 1 Aug 2008, 03:41:00, Blogger LN said...

Ah, but our friend does not understand that the new process is *much* more efficient than standard electrolysis (that is, it is less expensive and requires considerably less energy to split water into hydrogen and oxygen gases). From the article:

"Currently available electrolyzers, which split water with electricity and are often used industrially, are not suited for artificial photosynthesis because they are very expensive and require a highly basic (non-benign) environment that has little to do with the conditions under which photosynthesis operates."

This new process is more similar to plant photosynthesis -- something scientists have been attempting to replicate for years.

 
At 1 Aug 2008, 05:03:00, Blogger Alex said...

That's the thing. The article is worded to make it sound like it is a wowsie complete new thing completely, not a wowsie new way of doing a tried and true. Indeed it made no reference to what we remember from our high school and explain how things differ. I guess it was a news article not a scientific article.

But then there was no quantitative comparison. Sure we know it will cost less in power, but how much, 10%, 50%, 80%? I was surprised to see the MIT page opened with the same article, with no more detail.

I guess I skipped that paragraph the first twice I read the article. I hate the visual clutter of web pages.

 
At 1 Aug 2008, 06:05:00, Blogger BlankPhotog said...

The "hydrogen economy" crowd have been throwing money into this kind of research for decades, and they haven't come up with a commercially viable product yet. Of course this is what we need -- any way to harness and store solar energy efficiently, on a massive scale. Unfortunately, all we're seeing is a lot of gee whiz articles, books, and obfuscatory science all around.

 
At 1 Aug 2008, 10:33:00, Blogger eolake said...

The new process is *much* more efficient than standard electrolysis (that is, it is less expensive and requires considerably less energy to split water into hydrogen and oxygen gases). From the article:

Currently available electrolyzers, which split water with electricity and are often used industrially, are not suited for artificial photosynthesis because they are very expensive and require a highly basic (non-benign) environment that has little to do with the conditions under which photosynthesis operates.

This new process is more similar to plant photosynthesis -- something scientists have been attempting to replicate for years. Believe me, you'll hear more about this one.
NN

 
At 1 Aug 2008, 10:42:00, Blogger eolake said...

The comment above was not from me, sorry, it was from the site's webmaster.

 
At 1 Aug 2008, 11:35:00, Anonymous bruce said...

It always seems these "breakthoughs" are "10 years away" from reality. I'm still waiting for the "10 years away" energy breakthroughs I heard about in high school, 40 years ago.

 
At 1 Aug 2008, 11:43:00, Blogger eolake said...

Exactly, Bruce. Personally I think that predicting *anything* at all beyond six months is a fool's game.

 
At 1 Aug 2008, 17:53:00, Blogger Bert said...

Tsk, tsk, tsk. The breakthroughs are real. Whether or not you ever hear about them again depends only on whether or not someone finds a way to make money off of the said breakthroughs. It has nothing to do with the respective value of any given advancement in technology.

The breakthrough in MIT's discovery resides in the use of catalysts which remove the need for dangerous chemicals in the electrolyzer. Neat. Note that it strangely resembles some automobile-oriented stuff we discussed recently, but since it comes from MIT, it gets good press.

But who cares if the electrolysis process is simpler or more efficient, if nobody is to tackle the real problem of efficiently and economically storing hydrogen? Liquefying hydrogen is not a trivial task, and as long as it will have to be stored in gaseous form, the volume requirements will simply kill the technology (see below).

Solar energy has been available for decades, and there are indeed individuals that have put in the time, money and efforts to make it happen. Watch this video, it's worth your time if you want to understand what's at stake to disconnect yourself from the public grid.

Fortunately, there are many other ways of "going solar". Many if not most households need very little electricity at night. What is really needed at night is heating, and heat can be very efficiently stored simply by heating water in the daytime and using the stored heat at night. And if you need better volumetric efficiency, you can use paraffin wax to store the heat.

Better yet, in many places it is now possible with relatively little equipment to sell your surplus electricity back to the public grid during daytime, and buy it back at night at a discounted rate. This way, you might not become rich, but you will effectively reduce or even eliminate your electricity bill without any need to handle highly explosive hydrogen or build a heat storage system.

So, with all these options being available, why isn't solar energy more popular? As I said before, access to sunlight is limited in dense urban environment. But for suburbia, could it simply be because it's not easy and we are too lazy to make it happen ourselves? It's certainly not for lack of technology, in any case.

Public utilities are not about to disappear, simply because they will remain the simplest and easiest choice for a long time to come.

 
At 1 Aug 2008, 23:15:00, Blogger BlankPhotog said...

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Photosynthesis

Photosynthesis is a series of chemical steps to convert light energy into chemical energy for use by living organisms. It does produce oxygen as a byproduct.

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Electrolysis_of_water

By contrast, electrolysis of water is the decomposition of H2O into its components via a current through water between two electrodes. The gases bubble up at their respective electrodes.

OK, so if there's a catalyst that can be added to the water to separate hydrogen and oxygen with less energy cost, that's great, but it doesn't make it photosynthesis, or even like photosynthesis.

 

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