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Solar energy breakthrough
Old 07-31-2008, 08:53 PM   #1
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Solar energy breakthrough

Big news, I think - Technology Review: Solar-Power Breakthrough

If true, it could really help reduce dependence on petroleum products, at least in places where the sun shines.
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Old 07-31-2008, 09:01 PM   #2
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Looks very exciting, since it directly produces hydrogen and oxygen, which are cheaper to store than electricity in expensive batteries. I can see the gases being recombined in fuel cells to generate electricity when needed. Hope it's not too good to be true.

I hope it will pan out. Many promising inventions later prove to be impractical, or reach an impassable stumbling block. Let's watch this development for investment purposes.
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Old 07-31-2008, 09:44 PM   #3
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Well, I'm no chemist, but:

"The catalyst oxidizes the water to form oxygen gas and free hydrogen ions."

Isn't this technically a reduction, rather than an oxidation, reaction? If it were an oxidation reaction you'd get H2O2 (hydrogen peroxide)-right?

Like several of the folks who posted comments at the site, I'm a little confused about the link to solar power. The process described appears to be a modified version of electrolysis. If this new process significantly reduces the energy input needed to split water, then the applications go way beyond solar power.

It could be good news. Note that hydrogen is still notoriously difficult to transport and store. The stuff migrates right through many common container materials, leading to high loss rates. We can whip this problem, too, but it's not nearly as simple to use as propane or natural gas.
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Old 07-31-2008, 10:03 PM   #4
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The proposed solution of using sunlight to split water, storing solar energy in the form of hydrogen, hasn't been practical because the reaction required too much energy, and suitable catalysts were too expensive or used extremely rare materials. Nocera's catalyst clears the way for cheap and abundant water-splitting technologies
The laws of thermodynamics still apply. I don't think electrolysis was terribly inefficient and therefore I'm sceptical. However, my BSc. in Chemistry is 40+ years old and I never worked in the field after getting it so YMMV.

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The new catalyst marks a radical departure from earlier attempts. Researchers, including Nocera, have tried to design molecular catalysts in which the location of each atom is precisely known and the catalyst is made to last as long as possible. The new catalyst, however, is amorphous--it doesn't have a regular structure--and it's relatively unstable, breaking down as it does its work. But the catalyst is able to constantly repair itself, so it can continue working.
I beg to differ. By definition a catalyst does not take part in a reaction and therefore never 'breaks down' although:
Quote:
in practice catalysts are sometimes consumed in secondary processes
Sounds a bit like cold fusion to me, but I'll be happy to be proven wrong.
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Old 07-31-2008, 11:33 PM   #5
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This is one of those inventions the oil companies bought up years ago. Now they're gonna sell us hydrogen. ;-)
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Old 08-01-2008, 03:59 AM   #6
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If we can use solar power (in a practical and affordable way) to convert water to oxygen and hydrogen... then we may have the seeds of a reasonable solution. It does not matter if energy is lost in the transition (conversion) and storage (hydrogen) since the (solar) energy is expended anyway... this could represent the first industrial grade use of the nuclear plant in the sky.
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Old 08-01-2008, 06:07 AM   #7
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Sounds a bit like cold fusion to me, but I'll be happy to be proven wrong.
I have been waiting for cold fusion to make a comeback.
I think you could raise a $1 billion with an IPO for cold fusion without even trying hard. Of course you want to change the name, green fusion has a nice ring.

Most dead tree magazine are so desperate for money that we could easily bribe the editors of Nature, Scientific American, and Popular Science for a couple million, a viral video showing the cold fusion reaction, and endorsement by a celebrity and we are golden.
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Old 08-01-2008, 07:17 AM   #8
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It would have been helpful if the article to showed some $ per kilowatt figures for the total conversion process.
My guess, cost is/will be prohibitive for commercial use.

At least it does not require tinfoil.
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Old 08-01-2008, 08:54 AM   #9
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Like several of the folks who posted comments at the site, I'm a little confused about the link to solar power. The process described appears to be a modified version of electrolysis.
At first, I was thinking that with the catalyst, he was able to separate water into hydrogen and oxygen directly from sunshine, w/o the electrolysis part. But that seems to be something he is working on yet.

There could be an advantage to that - with electrolysis you need the solar panels at ~ 10% eff. So maybe direct conversion could attain higher eff?

So I don't 'get this' either. I'd have to go look it up, but I don't think electrolysis loses much energy at all ( a little heat in the water, and you could probably capture that) , so how much can you gain by adding a catalyst to make it more eff? Where else would the energy go?

This is an MIT publication? I'm disappointed that they didn't capture the issues better than they did, and that they didn't avoid hype.

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Old 08-01-2008, 09:07 AM   #10
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My first question would be "how many solar panels do you need to produce enough electricity to drive this electrolysis process to produce a meaningful amount of hydrogen to run a car or home based fuel cell and what do those cost".

My next question would be "...and how much loss is incurred in the conversion"

Followed by "and why arent we just capturing that electricity in a battery and then using it, without the electrolysis losses, hydrogen storage issues, and fuel cell losses"

Sounds to me like the guy found a somewhat improved electrolysis method. No more, no less.

Hardly the greatest discovery of the century.
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Old 08-01-2008, 03:18 PM   #11
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My first question would be "how many solar panels do you need to produce enough electricity to drive this electrolysis process to produce a meaningful amount of hydrogen to run a car or home based fuel cell and what do those cost".
This guy's ready:

Inside the Solar-Hydrogen House: No More Power Bills--Ever: Scientific American
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Old 08-01-2008, 03:31 PM   #12
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Oh my....

Great, no energy bills, just invest $500,000 up front.


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Although the device cost $500,000 to construct, and it is unlikely it will ever pay off financially
ya' think?

it gets worse...

Quote:
with $100,000 of his own cash and $400,000 in grants from the New Jersey Board of Public Utilities,
great, raise the bills of the rest of NJ utility payers with these stunts.

And before anyone buys the line that this works to prove out the concepts and helps them learn how to lower the costs - I call 'BS'. This stuff is all well understood. Companies are working on bringing down the costs, because they would love to sell this stuff to us. One guy playing with it at his house isn't going to change that in any meaningful way.

I wouldn't be surprised if the environmental impact of the installed 'stuff' was worse than just buying this 'horrid' grid electricity.

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Old 08-01-2008, 03:34 PM   #13
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oooops, just caught this 'priceless' line...


Quote:
"I'm a self-sufficiency guy," he adds. Strizki,
Hah! If he's so self-sufficient, why did he need the $400,000 grant?




Quote:
with $100,000 of his own cash and $400,000 in grants from the New Jersey Board of Public Utilities,
The hypocrisy of that is making me wonder if this guy is Al Gore's long lost brother....

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Old 08-01-2008, 04:06 PM   #14
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It's amazing how cheap the grid power is, that we get from coal. On the operating cost basis+original investment, nothing beats coal. Well, until people start to raise the "global warming" issue.

Argghhh, I don't want to go there... There has been at least one thread running on that issue already. I just want to enjoy my ER and make fun of Khan's cucumber bumper crop.

Does anyone know how to mail order some nutria meat?
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Old 08-01-2008, 11:37 PM   #15
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Wait a minute! Wait a minute! the Greens will be along shortly to condemn this process for using WATER, a resource for all living things. We can not use this resource for the sole benefit of man it must be allocated equitably among all species.

Please send your multi million $$$ payment to the UN Commission on Equitable Water Usage for all Species Directorate, Al Gore chairman.
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Old 08-02-2008, 12:54 AM   #16
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In the effort to make this sexy I think that they missed the main points. Journalists and academics frequently seem to do this. Let me explain at the risk boring you to death with what is probably an overly technical explanation. (At least that's what DW always tells me.)

Water electroysis is of course a hydrogen fuel cell running backwards. The oxygen reaction in both is very inefficient because there isn't a good catalyst for it. The fact that they use different catalysts for each should be the first clue that it is a very irreversible reaction.

A hydrogen fuel cell has a theoretical voltage of 1.2V but usually operates at about 0.8V. That means a third of the energy is lost because of inefficiencies and a lot of that is because of the inefficiencies of the oxygen reaction.

Electrolysis is similar. You might need to impose a voltage of 1.6V, 0.4V higher than theoretical, to get a reasonable current/reaction rate. A lot of energy in both processes is lost because there has never been a good catalyst for the oxygen reaction.

The claim is that he has invented a better oxygen catalyst. The apples to apples proof is to run an electrolysis cell or a fuel cell at the same current density with this catalyst and with the currently used catalyst and look at the voltage difference. If this catalyst yields a voltage a lot closer to theoretical then it is a significant development and could save a lot of energy.

But instead they need to make it sexy and start talking about coupling it what is called in the technical lingo a liquid junction solar cell which is a device that can convert sun light into electrical energy or use it for electrochemical reactions. That brings in a whole additional set of problems and is really peripheral to the main invention which if true can stand on its own as a significant discovery. There was some work on liquid junction solar cells in the late 70s and early 80s but it died when gas prices dropped and people realized that conventional solar cell were more efficient in fact I know a guy that was going to do a Ph.D. on them but changed his topic becasuse of that.

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Old 08-02-2008, 09:20 AM   #17
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Here's a story with less hype and confusion:

Science News / Small Steps Toward Big Energy Gains

and

Hydrogen Power on the Cheap--Or at Least, Cheaper: Scientific American

MIT Chemistry: Daniel G. Nocera

Just when I thought we were through with the silly hydrogen car idea. This may make a difference.
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Old 08-02-2008, 09:39 AM   #18
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Originally Posted by NW-Bound View Post
It's amazing how cheap the grid power is, that we get from coal. On the operating cost basis+original investment, nothing beats coal. Well, until people start to raise the "global warming" issue.

Argghhh, I don't want to go there... There has been at least one thread running on that issue already. I just want to enjoy my ER and make fun of Khan's cucumber bumper crop.

Does anyone know how to mail order some nutria meat?
1-800-314-5225 they ship frozen meat.

For recipes and stuff www.nutria.com - the LA dept of Wildlife and Fisheries has hired a chef to work up recipes. Axe() for Edmound Mouton Biologist Manager or (337) 373 - 0032.

P.S. plain old LA Hot Sauce(or Tabasco) and Tony Chachere's Creole seasoning works wonders.

heh heh heh -
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Old 08-02-2008, 09:59 AM   #19
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P.S. plain old LA Hot Sauce(or Tabasco) and Tony Chachere's Creole seasoning works wonders.
I suggest the jumbo "rodent lover" size...
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Old 08-02-2008, 12:24 PM   #20
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mb,
Thanks for the explanation/analysis. This story keeps being reported as being linked to solar power (it was carried on NPR news this AM), which really misses the point.

I get the voltage difference, but does that tell us everything we need to know? I wish someone would tell us:
"Using the traditional platinum catalyst, when we put in 100 watt/hours of electricity we get X liters of hydrogen at STP. Burned in a typical internal combustion engine, this produces XX watt hours of useful work, and in the best fuel cells and electric motors we can expect XX watt hours of useful work." Thus, end-to-end, there's an efficiency of XX% (ICE) to XX% (fuel cell)
"Using the new electrolysis reaction, the same input energy produces XX liters of hydrogen at STP, the overall efficiency is XX% (ICE) and XX% (fuel cell).
Then, the author might tell us how much cheaper the electrolysis reactor needed to provide hydrogen for a typical car might be if it contains the new catalysts rather than platinum.

If I had the technical smarts to figure this out, I would. It seems like the tech writers would go at least this far in their articles.
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