Friday, November 06, 2009

Personalized solar units could power homes and cars, M.I.T's Nocera says

By Eric Mortenson, The Oregonian

Ready to jump off the grid? Researchers believe the day is coming when the electricity you use will be your own. Instead of relying on large central generating stations -- hydroelectric dams, coal plants and the like -- scientists say we're moving toward an era of "personalized solar energy."

A recent issue of the American Chemical Society's journal, Inorganic Chemistry, describes an inexpensive method of solar energy storage that could provide power for homes and plug-in cars.

Solar researcher Daniel Nocera of Massachusetts Institute of Technology explains that the global energy demand will double by mid-century and triple by 2100 as the world population continues to increase and living standards rise. Capturing and storing solar energy could meet the demand, especially in poorer, emerging regions, according to Nocera.

He describes a home solar system with an innovative catalyst that splits water molecules into oxygen and hydrogen that become fuel for producing electricity in a fuel cell.

The oxygen-evolving catalyst works like photosynthesis, the method plants use to make energy, producing clean energy from sunlight and water. "Because energy use scales with wealth, point-of-use solar energy will put individuals, in the smallest village in the nonlegacy world and in the largest city of the legacy world, on a more level playing field," the report says.

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