EETimes reports that MIT has a new catalyst that makes electrolysis nearly 100% efficient in a cost effective way. This would make storage of intermittent power from solar and wind more cost effective. CNET also has coverage
MIT had recently developed special glass panels that concentrate light 40 times standard sunlight before delivery directly to the cell. They expect this technology to be commercialized in three years.
In other solar power news, from the New Scientist magazine, a new material could harness both visible and infrared photons, so it has a theoretical maximum efficiency of 63%, it creators say, and should give significantly better real-world performance. Current solar cells absorb visible light and have a maximum efficiency of about 40%. They add titanium and vanadium atoms into a conventional semiconductor, altering its electronic properties to create the intermediate energy level. It may prove challenging to insert enough titanium or vanadium to form a properly functioning intermediate energy level in the semiconductor.
The hard part of getting water to split is not the hydrogen — platinum as a catalyst works fine for the hydrogen. But platinum works very poorly for oxygen, making you use much more energy,” said MIT chemistry professor Daniel Nocera. “What we have done is made a catalyst work for the oxygen part without any extra energy. In fact, with our catalyst almost 100 percent of the current used for electrolysis goes into making oxygen and hydrogen.”
MIT’s patented formulation of cobalt phosphate was dissolved in water. When the electrical current is passed through it to initiate electrolysis, the catalyst attached itself to the oxygen electrode to increase its efficiency. When the electrical current was turned off, the cobalt phosphate dissolved back into water.
Nickel oxide catalysts are currently used to boost the efficiency of electrolyzers, and they worked equally well in MIT’s formulation, Nocera acknowledged. He added that the toxicity of nickel oxide forces the use of expensive, hermetically-sealed water containers. MIT’s patented catalyst formulation is “green,” Nocera said, and can be used in inexpensive open containers.