Solar power breakthrough

Very, very cool. Going to watch for this to go public.

[quote=“MIT”]In a revolutionary leap that could transform solar power from a marginal, boutique alternative into a mainstream energy source, MIT researchers have overcome a major barrier to large-scale solar power: storing energy for use when the sun doesn’t shine.

Until now, solar power has been a daytime-only energy source, because storing extra solar energy for later use is prohibitively expensive and grossly inefficient. With today’s announcement, MIT researchers have hit upon a simple, inexpensive, highly efficient process for storing solar energy.

Requiring nothing but abundant, non-toxic natural materials, this discovery could unlock the most potent, carbon-free energy source of all: the sun. “This is the nirvana of what we’ve been talking about for years,” said MIT’s Daniel Nocera, the Henry Dreyfus Professor of Energy at MIT and senior author of a paper describing the work in the July 31 issue of Science. “Solar power has always been a limited, far-off solution. Now we can seriously think about solar power as unlimited and soon.”
[…]
The new catalyst works at room temperature, in neutral pH water, and it’s easy to set up, Nocera said. “That’s why I know this is going to work. It’s so easy to implement,” he said.[/quote]

[quote=“Jaboney”]Very, very cool. Going to watch for this to go public.

[quote=“MIT”]In a revolutionary leap that could transform solar power from a marginal, boutique alternative into a mainstream energy source, MIT researchers have overcome a major barrier to large-scale solar power: storing energy for use when the sun doesn’t shine.

Until now, solar power has been a daytime-only energy source, because storing extra solar energy for later use is prohibitively expensive and grossly inefficient. With today’s announcement, MIT researchers have hit upon a simple, inexpensive, highly efficient process for storing solar energy.

Requiring nothing but abundant, non-toxic natural materials, this discovery could unlock the most potent, carbon-free energy source of all: the sun. “This is the nirvana of what we’ve been talking about for years,” said MIT’s Daniel Nocera, the Henry Dreyfus Professor of Energy at MIT and senior author of a paper describing the work in the July 31 issue of Science. “Solar power has always been a limited, far-off solution. Now we can seriously think about solar power as unlimited and soon.”
[…]
The new catalyst works at room temperature, in neutral pH water, and it’s easy to set up, Nocera said. “That’s why I know this is going to work. It’s so easy to implement,” he said.[/quote][/quote]
All the talk about mimicking plants makes you realise how far we have to go. Plants are more efficient than solar cells you can actually afford, reproduce on their own at room temperature and have a much more sophisticated energy storage mechanism than this gizmo.

That said the cost of solar cells will eventually drop to the point where they are a good choice for electricity generation.

But but but that might make the world a cleaner, healthier, more affordable and freer place to live in. We can’t have that… that would be socialism!

I don’t get it - you can store solar power in batteries already. Since the new discovery needs electricity to split water it also means you need more / additional power from the solar panels, i.e. more or bigger panels.
I can see some applications for the new discovery but why it is so strongly tied to solar power isn’t quite clear to me!?

Watched some program on Discovery or Nat. Geo a while back and they introduced a more efficient (and flexible) solar cell made from plastic. However we are still talking less than 20% efficiency.

Found this recent article: 17.7 Percent Efficient Flexible Solar Cell Invented by Japanese

and yet another welcome solar cell development is the advent of a wide spectrum solar cell that harvests infrared energy as well. normally there is not enough energy in each photon of infrared radiation to dislodge an electron in a solar cell, thus generating current, but these guys have developed a system that allows the solar cell material to make the jump to a high enough energy level to eject the electron in several steps, rather than one single step as currently needed. this means that infrared radiation, which is a bit more than half of the sun’s output (at the earth’s surface) can now be captured and used for energy generation.

and yes, storing that energy has been a problem as the materials that are now used to make batteries are toxic or prohibitively expensive or in limited supply… and the electricity to split the water is the solar power.

The electricity or rather the power needed to do the splitting cannot be used for other purposes, so in the end it’s similar to charging a battery. Can’t get more out of it than what you put in.

wtf???

Sorry?

The electricity or rather the power needed to do the splitting cannot be used for other purposes, so in the end it’s similar to charging a battery. Can’t get more out of it than what you put in.[/quote]
Batteries have terrible energy densities though

en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Energy_density

They also wear out way to fast, require loads of energy and expensive materials to make.

What’s interesting about the energy density chart is that body fat (38MJ/kg) is almost as good an energy store as gasoline (46.9MJ/kg). For comparison Lithium ion batteries are (0.54MJ/Kg) and lead acid manages 0.09–0.11MJ/Kg

Which is the reason your car runs on gasoline rather than batteries.

[quote=“KingZog”]Batteries have terrible energy densities though

en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Energy_density

They also wear out way to fast, require loads of energy and expensive materials to make.[/quote]
True, but I wonder how inexpensive that new invention is, platinum which is used as catalyst can’t be that cheap. Then again it depends on the efficiency, if only few catalyst material is needed to convert (split, store and combine) the same energy as a battery that cost might be neglectable.

They don’t mention energy densities either. Craig Venter talked about hacking plant cells so that they generate electricity. And Michio Kaku talked about using proteins from photosynthesis to generate electricity. Plants make oils too, so they’ve got a built in energy storage mechanism.

So it seems like the technology to harvest sunlight, store the energy and generate power is already around, it’s just that humans don’t know how to use it properly yet.

And fat can be converted to fuel.

Imagine filling stations with drive-thru liposuction. :smiley:

And fat can be converted to fuel.

Imagine filling stations with drive-thru liposuction. :smiley:[/quote]
ElasticAss™ chinos, now with a hole in the back so your SUV can suck fuel out of you.

It’s the American dream :wink:

[quote=“KingZog”] Craig Venter talked about hacking plant cells so that they generate electricity. And Michio Kaku talked about using proteins from photosynthesis to generate electricity. Plants make oils too, so they’ve got a built in energy storage mechanism.

So it seems like the technology to harvest sunlight, store the energy and generate power is already around, it’s just that humans don’t know how to use it properly yet.[/quote]

well, we humans are learning more and more all the time, but it will still be a fair number of years yet before this is technically feasible.

mind you, with the anti-research mindset of some people, the contributions to this field (and others) being made every day by developmental biologists will be sorely lacking, especially if they continue to go around trying to kill them.

the “genetic research is all bad, people. don’t mess with what God gave us” dogma often comes from very similar minds as the “there is no energy crisis, there is no pollution problem, there is no such thing as peak oil: technology will save us all” mantra.

Actually the price of oil has only just got back to “oil crisis” levels if you adjust for inflation.

inflationdata.com/inflation/ … _Chart.htm

The difference is that this time it is not due to an Opec manufactured supply crisis, more that demand is higher because of China and India. So theoretically that price increase is at least partly structural. Though obviously demand will drop if the world economy nosedives.

I read somewhere that the Saudis believe that oil should avoid oil crisis price levels because otherwise the world economy will transition away from depending on it quickly. Back when they could control price by opening or closing the taps all was ok, but now they can’t it looks like the transition will happen, since we’re obviously way above what they regarded as the transition price point.

[quote=“Rascal”]
The electricity or rather the power needed to do the splitting cannot be used for other purposes, so in the end it’s similar to charging a battery. Can’t get more out of it than what you put in.[/quote]
The point is that the sun is being used as an renewable energy source to produce hydrogen fuel. It is not like charging a battery at all because the sun’s energy is not being stored. Plus, hydrogen’s energy density far exceeds that of a battery. I worked on a similar project in college, I’m glad to see the idea is progressing.

The article says the main application is storing the solar power for use at night when the sun doesn’t shine. I can already do that with a battery. - My statement was not comparing the splitting/combining process to charging a battery but rather that additional energy (additional to what you consume for other things like running the fridge, TV etc.) is needed to do the splitting, just as additional energy would be needed to charge a battery.
Maybe the entire splitting / combining is more efficient than charging a battery, but that’s the question which hasn’t been answered yet.

You know I wonder about using plants as solar panels… I mean like some way of extracting the glucose that plants produce by photosynthesis and use that to generate electricity…

or just burning biomass (dead trees/grass/etc) to produce electricity…

I heard Germany actually burns garbage for electricity.