MIT Researchers Develop Efficient Solar Energy Storage System

MIT Researchers Develop Efficient Solar Energy Storage System

Research at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology has revealed a new way to use solar energy to provide power when the sun isn't shining.

The process, developed by MIT Professor Daniel Nocera and postdoctoral fellow Matthew Kanan, uses energy from the sun to split water into oxygen and hydrogen, which can be stored and later recombined inside a fuel cell to provide energy.

A new catalyst that produces oxygen gas from water drives the process, which the researchers describe in detail in a Science magazine article. The catalyst is made of cobalt metal, phosphate and an electrode. When electricity is added, it forms a thin film that drives the production of oxygen from water. The separate hydrogen-producing catalyst is currently reliant on platinum, but the researchers are experimenting with an alternative.

The researchers say the system is an efficient and inexpensive way to store solar energy to be reused at night of when there's no sunshine. The catalysts work in room temperature, neutral-pH water.

Because recombining oxygen and hydrogen produces water as well as energy, the water can be reused over and over again, creating a closed-loop energy system.

The researchers are now working on how to integrate the process into existing solar power systems. Although the energy that drives the process can come from any power source, the researchers are focusing on solar power because of the possibilities with home-based photovoltaic systems. Nocera says he hopes the process will be available to homeowners within the next decade.