Solar Panels on Turing building

MIT researchers have designed a new solar power technology aimed at storing energy harnessed from solar panels. Their designs will allow solar energy to be collected during daylight hours and stored effectively and cheaply for use at night. Solar power has always had issues overcoming low efficiency and a high cost basis. The latest research may put these setbacks to rest, allowing our most abundant resource to be developed on a massive scale.

Professor of Energy at MIT, Daniel Nocera, and Matthew Kanan, have designed a process of separating hydrogen and oxygen using the rays of the Sun. The gases can then be combined inside a fuel cell allowing clean storage of electricity for future use.

Oxygen is produced by creating a catalyst of cobalt metal, phosphate, and an electrode added to water. When electricity is applied to this catalyst, the cobalt and phosphate form a layer on top of the electrode and produce oxygen. Hydrogen can then be produced from from another catalyst, such as platinum. Nocera and Kanan have drawn upon processes similar to that of photosynthesis.

‘This is a major discovery with enormous implications for the future prosperity of humankind,’ said James Barber, a photosynthesis expert at Imperial College London. ‘The importance of their discovery cannot be overstated since it opens up the door for developing new technologies for energy production thus reducing our dependence for fossil fuels and addressing the global climate change problem.’

Although the technology will need years to develop into a fully workable solution, it makes possible the reality of households powering themselves on photovoltaic cells during the day, and personal fuel cells throughout the night. This discovery paves the way for worldwide green technology that may help with the extinction of fossil fuel emissions and pollution from current out-dated energy plants.

This project is part of a $10 million dollar effort funded by the National Science Foundation and the Chesonis Family Foundation, to develop a large scale roll-out of solar power within 10 years.

Solar panels