When solar energy is bottled and ready to be used during rainy days

Mar 29, 2016 | written by:

We can't control when the wind blows and when the sun shines. Weather forecast sometimes are wrong and there can always be some setbacks in ambush. It may seem trivial, but being able to predict certainly when the wind blows or when the sun shines and also find an effective way to store their clean energy, it’s one of the problems to which science is trying to give an answer.

Moreover, it would be perfect to have a bit of solar energy bottled and ready for use during rainy days. A group of researchers from the Faculty of Applied Science and Engineering of the University of Toronto, led by the professor Ted Sargent, would seem to have found a solution inspired by the same structure of nature (research results were recently published in the journal Science). Until today, in a solar farm or in a wind farm, the energy conservation is carried out with batteries. A method not 100% efficient, since there is always an amount that is lost during the process and batteries are not cheap.

To overcome this problem, the Toronto team has designed and created a much more efficient catalyst the normal ones for storing energy in chemical form, dividing water into its two components, hydrogen and oxygen, just as plants are used to do during the process of photosynthesis.

At this point, oxygen is released into the atmosphere, while the hydrogen, as H2, can be converted into energy by using hydrogen fuel cells. Split water into its components is definitely something that your high school chemistry professor told you: a bit of electricity and oxygen and hydrogen are separated. True, but not suitable if it’s to be realized on a large scale since the process requires such a quantity of energy input to be greater or equal to that output. The novelty introduced by Ted Sargent has been making a new catalyst that facilitates the chemical reaction that leads to have O2 and H2 from H2O in a way three times more efficient than the current state of the art. The secret is having used low cost metals such as tungsten, iron and cobalt, and not precious metals, to achieve the catalyst. This change has enabled increased efficiency and showed no signs of degradation even after more than five hours of uninterrupted activity. A discovery that might be able to succeed in eliminating all waste now present and that raises the bar a point higher up in the street to accelerate the progress of conversion and conservation of energy.

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