Washington, August 1 : Scientists from MIT (Massachusetts Institute of Technology) US have achieved a revolutionary breakthrough that could lead to storage of solar energy when the Sun is not shining, by mimicking the essence of plants' energy storage system.
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.
But, the method developed by the MIT researchers is inexpensive, highly efficient process for storing solar energy.
Inspired by the photosynthesis performed by plants, Daniel Nocera and Matthew Kanan from MIT have developed an unprecedented process that will allow the sun's energy to be used to split water into hydrogen and oxygen gases.
Later, the oxygen and hydrogen may be recombined inside a fuel cell, creating carbon-free electricity to power your house or your electric car, day or night.
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 Nocera. "Solar power has always been a limited, far-off solution. Now we can seriously think about solar power as unlimited and soon," he added.
The key component in Nocera and Kanan's new process is a new catalyst that produces oxygen gas from water; another catalyst produces valuable hydrogen gas.
The new catalyst consists of cobalt metal, phosphate and an electrode, placed in water.
When electricity - whether from a photovoltaic cell, a wind turbine or any other source - runs through the electrode, the cobalt and phosphate form a thin film on the electrode, and oxygen gas is produced.
Combined with another catalyst, such as platinum, that can produce hydrogen gas from water, the system can duplicate the water splitting reaction that occurs during photosynthesis.
According to Nocera, the new catalyst works at room temperature, in neutral pH water, and it's easy to set up.
"That's why I know this is going to work. It's so easy to implement," he said.
James Barber, the Ernst Chain Professor of Biochemistry at Imperial College London, called the discovery by Nocera and Kanan a "giant leap" toward generating clean, carbon-free energy on a massive scale.
"This is a major discovery with enormous implications for the future prosperity of humankind," he said.
"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," he added.