Yes, there's a double meaning to "catalyze" in that title. A couple of scientists at MIT have created a new kind of catalyst that makes electrolysis much simpler, cheaper and efficient. Theoretically this could help save the world by:
- Creating a simple way to produce hydrogen fuel for our automobile fleet
- Storing electricity provided by intermittent renewables like wind and solar
- Storing electricity during cheap off-peak times for use during peak hours
- Eliminating the need for hydrogen transport, as it could be produced anywhere with connection to the electric grid
Probably the biggest deal here is number 2 and 3. We've already seen some steps toward a distributed power system where everyone has a fuel source in their house. Bloom Energy is hoping to create a system that would allow every person to have a hydrogen storage / electricity creation box in their home.
The new technique uses inexpensive catalysts containing cobalt and phosphate. But the biggest deal is that it bubbles 100% of the oxygen produced, meaning that they can close the loop and not have to discard any water to keep efficiency high.
Other electrolysis techniques don't remove all of the O2 from he water, creating hydroxides that degrade performance. The new system, developed at MIT, removes all of the oxygen, so that electrolysis can be efficient at room temperature without electrolyte inputs to remove the hydroxides.
The scientists seem to be confident that this is a game changer, and a breakthrough, though they're saying it'll be a decade before it can be fully implemented. Nonetheless, this is a big freakin' deal, especially if combined with the next wave of cheap renewables. Power storage remains a huge issue, and if this could solve that problem, it would be the second step we need toward a truly renewable future.
written by Karlamanda Bell, August 13, 2008
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