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Artificial Leaf Could Provide Cheap Energy

Soulskill posted more than 3 years ago | from the make-like-a-tree-and-catalyze-the-electrolysis-of-water dept.

Power 326

sciencehabit was one of several readers to tip news of a sunlight-harvesting artificial leaf, writing: "Nearly all the energy we use on this planet starts out as sunlight that plants use to knit chemical bonds. Now, for the first time, researchers at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology have created a potentially cheap, practical artificial leaf that does much the same thing—providing a vast source of energy that's easy to tap. The new device is a silicon wafer about the shape and size of a playing card coated on either side with two different catalysts. The silicon absorbs sunlight and passes that energy to the catalysts to split water into molecules of hydrogen and oxygen. Hydrogen is a fuel that can be either burned or used in a fuel cell to create electricity, reforming water in either case. This means that in theory, anyone with access to water can use it to create a cheap, clean, and available source of fuel."

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326 comments

Vaporware (5, Funny)

GabriellaKat (748072) | more than 3 years ago | (#35646660)

At last, true vaporware!

Re:Vaporware (0)

ae1294 (1547521) | more than 3 years ago | (#35646740)

Nah lets just grow POT! and burn hippies for fuel...

Nah, not better that existing panels (-1, Troll)

slushslash5 (2026878) | more than 3 years ago | (#35646682)

Its less energy efficient and even hazardous [blog.com]

Re:Nah, not better that existing panels (-1)

Creedo (548980) | more than 3 years ago | (#35646708)

Nicely done! I haven't seen that anus in forever!

So it's a solar cell.... (4, Insightful)

artor3 (1344997) | more than 3 years ago | (#35646684)

There's only so much insolation to harvest. If this is cheaper and higher efficiency than existing solar cells, then great. Based on the article, it's only 5.5% efficient, so meh. But even if it were 100% efficient, it's not some magical free energy machine, and never can be. While it's true that "nearly all the energy we use on this planet starts out as sunlight", a lot of that energy arrived at earth several millenia ago. In the long run, we're going to need to either use less energy (preferably by making things more efficient, not making do with fewer things) and/or get some near-unlimited fuel source, like fusion.

Re:So it's a solar cell.... (1)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#35646748)

My take on this was that the breakthrough wasn't the solar cell, but the catalysts used to break up water. Not having to use platinum is a huge bonus, and could make manufacturing these devices much cheaper.

Re:So it's a solar cell.... (5, Insightful)

timeOday (582209) | more than 3 years ago | (#35646838)

No, actually there is plenty of sunlight to power all current needs and more [theenergycollective.com] , if we could capture it efficiently.

Yup, I linked to a page claiming to "debunk" this "myth" on the basis it would take a solar panel the size of Georgia to power the whole earth. Big deal! Vastly more land is consumed by agriculture. Just reclaiming all the space on rooftops, roadways, and parking lots for solar would account for a lot of that, puttng power generation right where it's needed.

And then there's there's the 2/3 of the earth covered by water nobody is making much use of. If cheap solar devices can produce hydrogen, it can be shipped long distances efficiently.

Benefit to Georgia (4, Funny)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#35646874)

Plus as some one who lives in Georgia I can tell you that is is hot! A solar shade for the state might work well!

Re:Benefit to Georgia (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#35647134)

yes... yes.. and like in Futurama, They could build a big mirror in space to give shade to the planet and bounce the extraneous light harmlessly into space... What could go wrong!

Re:Benefit to Georgia (1)

PopeRatzo (965947) | more than 3 years ago | (#35647580)

Plus as some one who lives in Georgia I can tell you that is is hot! A solar shade for the state might work well!

If you leave Savannah alone, you can cover the entire state of Georgia with a solar panel and nothing would be missed. We never did finish that whole "Reconstruction" thing, so now might be a good time.

Re:So it's a solar cell.... (2)

Gerzel (240421) | more than 3 years ago | (#35646896)

The big question I see with this is just how clean does the water going in have to be?

Sunlight is free, but clean water is not.

Re:So it's a solar cell.... (1)

countertrolling (1585477) | more than 3 years ago | (#35647046)

Sunlight "falls" from the sky every day... and so does clean water, free as can be, and fairly safe to transport.. We don't need no desalination plants,

Re:So it's a solar cell.... (2)

yeshuawatso (1774190) | more than 3 years ago | (#35647112)

Sunlight "falls" from the sky every day...

Try telling that to Beijing!

Re:So it's a solar cell.... (1)

countertrolling (1585477) | more than 3 years ago | (#35647232)

They can compress their smog into briquettes.. for weekend BBQs..

Re:So it's a solar cell.... (1)

FunkyRider (1128099) | more than 3 years ago | (#35647258)

Or your mom!

Re:So it's a solar cell.... (1)

koxkoxkox (879667) | more than 3 years ago | (#35647410)

It's a pretty clean sunny day in Beijing, thank you very much.

Really, I know it is fashionable to bash Beijing for pollution around here, but it is not that bad. Try Linfen next time, you will be closer to the truth ...

Re:So it's a solar cell.... (1)

Dahamma (304068) | more than 3 years ago | (#35647194)

Wha? This makes no more sense than it would applied to clean water to use for any other use. If there were always enough clean water available to everyone as rainwater there would be no need for desalinization in the Middle East, let alone need for reservoirs, irrigation systems, wells...

Re:So it's a solar cell.... (2)

haruchai (17472) | more than 3 years ago | (#35647210)

So far, they've tested using water from the Charles River, presumably unfiltered. Next they'll try using seawater. Stay tuned.

Re:So it's a solar cell.... (1)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#35647604)

You know I love that dirty water...

Re:So it's a solar cell.... (3, Informative)

sunzoomspark (1960660) | more than 3 years ago | (#35647582)

The big question I see with this is just how clean does the water going in have to be?

The article said they'd been running it on water from the Charles River, so it doesn't have to be very clean.

Re:So it's a solar cell.... (1)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#35647010)

Nonsense. Now design the wiring to get that energy to its destinations. Hydrogen still needs to be harvested over a HUGE area, then compressed and chilled. Hydrogen is corrosive, it attacks almost every material we build with, and then it does this neat trick of escaping through container walls. This is braindead, please find another hobby horse

Please find out what the ocean does for us, Just because no one is driving their Hummer on it RIGHT NOW doesn't mean we don't use it. You like breathing?

Re:So it's a solar cell.... (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#35647126)

Hydrogen still needs to be harvested over a HUGE area, then compressed and chilled. Hydrogen is corrosive, it attacks almost every material we build with, and then it does this neat trick of escaping through container walls. This is braindead, please find another hobby horse

Are you saying fuel cells are brain-dead??

Re:So it's a solar cell.... (1)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#35647376)

Yes. Except for a few specialized applications like in spacecraft, they make little to no sense. Hydrogen right now is not a fuel, it's difficult to store, has lousy energy density, and is corrosive. It's just more idealist bullshit to distract people from the very real problems the Western lifestyle is facing.

Re:So it's a solar cell.... (1)

EdIII (1114411) | more than 3 years ago | (#35647388)

While I will agree the shipment of hydrogen is a bit silly, that does negate his point at all.

There is a tremendous amount of sunlight hitting the planet all the time. I wish I could find the link, but a sunshine hour means the cumulative time during which an area receives direct irradiance from the Sun of at least 120 watts per square meter.

I know that for the US this averages anywhere between 2500 and 3000. Like I said I wish I could find the link.

The point is, that there is enough sunlight energy that we can easily create point source power generation for homes that would provide quite an abundance of energy. This does involve some increased efficiency, but we are not that far off.

What stops us from doing so is politics, investments (politics), economies of scale (investments), and getting the average person to retrofit their houses to do so.

no free energy (2)

v1 (525388) | more than 3 years ago | (#35647108)

When you start talking about that scale, even solar is no longer free. All that sun, hitting the land or the sea, you don't think that energy is otherwise "wasted" or destroyed? It goes to heat the earth. If you capture it with solar panels or other methods, that energy never gets where it was going.

I don't have any good idea what the impact of that is, but you can't just discount it as "free".

Re:no free energy (3, Informative)

Black Gold Alchemist (1747136) | more than 3 years ago | (#35647182)

If you have solar panels capture the energy, they simply suck the energy up, store it, and when it returns as heat in the friction of the objects it moves, the lights it powers, etc. Without the solar panels, the light would just be heat. So it is free.

Re:no free energy (1)

drinkypoo (153816) | more than 3 years ago | (#35647322)

The problem with this notion is that there's less soil coverage today, so if anything you'd be helping to reduce man's impact.

Re:no free energy (0)

maxume (22995) | more than 3 years ago | (#35647694)

Human power use is about 1/10000 of the power of the sunlight hitting the Earth.

So you could build 5 or 20 or 30 percent of the array and see if anything scary happened.

Re:So it's a solar cell.... (2)

stms (1132653) | more than 3 years ago | (#35647272)

So all we have to do is give up the only reason we use so much energy in the first place (transportation) and billions of dollars in land plus millions of dollars a year in up keep or figure out a way to put them in the ocean possibly causing more environmental problems and we can gather enough energy from the sun. Where do we sign up?... in all seriousness just listen to yourself you think gas is expensive what you're talking about would make gas look cheap. Why not just invest in a few state of the art fusion plants?

Re:So it's a solar cell.... (1)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#35647380)

Because those fusion plants don't exist?

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Fusion_power [wikipedia.org]

You mean fission. Or just nuclear reactor would have gotten the point across.

What about night and bad weather? (2)

jklovanc (1603149) | more than 3 years ago | (#35647360)

There is not an energy production problem there is an energy storage problem. Almost all green sources of energy have have down times. In the case of solar energy that is night. If we could store some of the energy produced in the day we would be much further ahead. There is some research and a few test being done but energy storage is not as "sexy" as energy production.

Re:What about night and bad weather? (1)

socsoc (1116769) | more than 3 years ago | (#35647834)

Some people call that a battery.

Re:So it's a solar cell.... (2)

currently_awake (1248758) | more than 3 years ago | (#35647402)

1- You can't ship hydrogen cheaply or efficiently. 2- the biosphere (fish) like having sunlight on the ocean. 3- distributed energy is too hard for rich people to profit from, they prefer centrally generated power, with metering.

Re:So it's a solar cell.... (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#35647466)

Now if only you could bind the hydrogen to carbon.... say like from CO2 and CO from the air...

You would essentially be making either alcohol or sugar or maybe more complex hydrocarbons like gasoline.

Re:So it's a solar cell.... (1)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#35647832)

... if we could capture it efficiently.

Just a small detail, right?

Re:So it's a solar cell.... (2)

maxume (22995) | more than 3 years ago | (#35646898)

That's just silly. The sun blasts the earth with petawatts of energy, we only need to harvest terawatts, the problems are all in cost, efficiency and storage, not in availability of energy.

Re:So it's a solar cell.... (1)

bunratty (545641) | more than 3 years ago | (#35647028)

Quite true. A 100 mile by 100 mile solar power plant would provide all the electricity that the United States needs [americanen...ndence.com] . It would have the added benefit of never running out, as fossil fuels and fissile nuclear fuels do. Even fusion power wouldn't last long if it required deuterium, tritium, or helium instead of regular one-proton hydrogen.

Re:So it's a solar cell.... (1, Troll)

c6gunner (950153) | more than 3 years ago | (#35647256)

Quite true. A 100 mile by 100 mile solar power plant would provide all the electricity that the United States needs [americanen...ndence.com].

Yes, but how many mexicans would you need to keep the panels clean? 10,000? 100,000? 100,000,000?

Of course, the number of nuclear power plants needed to produce the same amount of electricity could fit in a 10 mile by 10 mile area. And they wouldn't need hordes of window-washers to keep operating at full capacity. Nor would they shut down at night time.

It would have the added benefit of never running out, as fossil fuels and fissile nuclear fuels do.

Bullshit. Everything runs out eventually.

Re:So it's a solar cell.... (3, Interesting)

bunratty (545641) | more than 3 years ago | (#35647298)

Well, at the point solar power runs out, we'd have to find a new planet anyway. It would provide energy for billions of years rather than hundreds. For all intents and purposes, solar, wind, and biofuels never run out.

Also, all forms of energy generation require human workers. Who do you think digs up the coal, oil, and uranium? Who do you think runs the oil refineries, nuclear power plants, and coal plants? Do you have any evidence that we'd need more workers per unit of solar power than for other forms of power?

Re:So it's a solar cell.... (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#35647502)

A solar plant != solar panels. An array of reflecting towers, using the sun to heat molten salt (which in turn heats water to produce steam to spin turbines). could be used, The thermal energy of the salt tanks is high enough to provide overnight power. Solar plants of this exact nature have been discussed on /. *this year*

Re:So it's a solar cell.... (4, Informative)

rubycodez (864176) | more than 3 years ago | (#35647400)

Actually, the deuterium in the oceans would provide fusion energy sufficient for billions of years, the sun would scorch the earth to by expansion first before we ran out. And there is lithium and boron, and we can make tritium. Fusion really is the holy grail of power generation if we can't make solar power work. http://www.engineeringchallenges.org/cms/8996/9079.aspx [engineerin...lenges.org]

Re:So it's a solar cell.... (1)

bunratty (545641) | more than 3 years ago | (#35647566)

There's lots of gold in the oceans, too, but it's not economically feasible to extract it. Is it economically feasible to extract deuterium from seawater? Also, we do have working solar power today. A power plant running on fusion power may never be economically feasible or even technologically possible at all.

Re:So it's a solar cell.... (3, Informative)

rubycodez (864176) | more than 3 years ago | (#35647692)

Deuterium is much more abundant than gold and far easier to extract from water (of any source, fresh or ocean doesn't matter). We've been producing and using deuterium for decades, for example as moderator in heavy water reactor. The energy cost is negligible even for fission reactor moderator, for fusion energy even smaller cost compared to yield.

Re:So it's a solar cell.... (1)

currently_awake (1248758) | more than 3 years ago | (#35647432)

So if you paved death valley in solar panels (with greenhouses below growing rice I expect) then you'd not need to import oil or give money to OPEC. So all America has to do is figure out how to pay the Chinese to built it.

Re:So it's a solar cell.... (1)

Thing 1 (178996) | more than 3 years ago | (#35646924)

Yeah, my take is there's so much solar energy being wasted escaping into space, we really need to put a cap on it. A Matrioshka Brain, in other words. Yes, it's a large engineering feat but the politicians are too busy cozying up with the bankers for us to get off the planet...

Re:So it's a solar cell.... (1)

marcello_dl (667940) | more than 3 years ago | (#35647602)

> Science can explain religion; not vice versa.
"God created man, man observed its surroundings, derived rules and models that predict changes in those surroundings and called it science."

Science explains religion under the hypothesis that a god doesn't exist (unless evidence is given, which is a currently irrelevant clause).
The dual is: religion explains science under the hypothesis that his god(s) exist. That's what I just did. Easy. Let's forget about God and go on.

"Another man reasoned that if a law describes an event, then that event obeys that law. And thought laws to be absolute, and applied logic outside the physical world to the trascendent one, (a groundless assumption because it's trivial for us to create systems ruled by ternary or fuzzy logic) so atheism / theology were born"

In other words, you can't say anything about a god by using logic. Those proclaiming atheism is a religion might be wrong in their reasoning but they accidentally get to the right conclusions.

And it always be like that because evidence can't be given: nothing that happens however extraordinary, proves God (simple demonstration: whatever our knowledge of the universe is, you can't prove it's the ultimate*. All that lies between ours and ultimate knowledge is indistinguishable from divine power). You might set an arbitrary threshold for thinking God would prove itself, but that's technically called "faith" not "evidence".

So, you're free to believe, to not believe, to not choose. Not bad.

*even if the accumulated knowledge used logic to prove its completeness, there's nothing that guarantees that logic to be always valid.

Re:So it's a solar cell.... (2)

by (1706743) (1706744) | more than 3 years ago | (#35647138)

...and/or get some near-unlimited fuel source, like fusion.

That's what solar power is -- it's just that the fusion source is millions of miles away.

Additionally -- and I'm sure this is redundant with some other posts -- producing hydrogen directly cuts the middle man, if that's what you're ultimately going to do. I'd certainly rather putter around in one of these [wikipedia.org] or one of these [wikipedia.org] than in an electric vehicle -- and if the energy's cheap and clean...well, bring back the muscle cars, I say!

Re:So it's a solar cell.... (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#35647254)

There's only so much insolation to harvest. If this is cheaper and higher efficiency than existing solar cells, then great. Based on the article, it's only 5.5% efficient, so meh. But even if it were 100% efficient, it's not some magical free energy machine, and never can be. While it's true that "nearly all the energy we use on this planet starts out as sunlight", a lot of that energy arrived at earth several millenia ago. In the long run, we're going to need to either use less energy (preferably by making things more efficient, not making do with fewer things) and/or get some near-unlimited fuel source, like fusion.

Fusion is a joke and I wouldn't hold my breath. It sounds great until you do the numbers. It's the most inefficient source and even at that no one has gotten it to work. How do I arrive at that sacrilegious conclusion? At best Fusion will likely produce a few percent more power than goes into creating the reaction. 95% or more is wasted. I've been following it since the 70s and we are still 50 year from fusion power. I dare say in 50 years we'll still be 50 years out and it's debatable if it'll be practical even then. We need vast amounts of Helium 3 and yes I know the Moon has a lot but have you ever done the projections on what Earth based resources would be needed to mine the Moon? Fusion is our worst option not our best. We need to better manage what we have. The far more practical solution would be tapping the mantle for heat. I think the numbers I read were after a 1,000 years we'd reduce the temperature less than one degree. That's the nearly unlimited source not mining the Moon and hoping Fusion matches the worst solar cells in efficiency.

Re:So it's a solar cell.... (1)

Dahamma (304068) | more than 3 years ago | (#35647314)

This isn't about solar cells or harvesting, it's about a simple and cheap mechanism for energy storage using hydrogen.

The majority of the currently used hydrogen is still generated by fossil-fuel power, and all of the high-efficiency electrical battery storage systems use a lot of toxic (and expensive) marerials as well as having a limited lifespan.

A mechanism that passively and directly turns water into oxygen and hydrogen, even with a fraction of the efficiency of traditional solar cells, could be very useful. Of course there will be plenty of technical issues around collecting, compressing, and storing that hydrogen, but just because it isn't trivial or ready for use doesn't mean it's not interesting...

Re:So it's a solar cell.... (1)

currently_awake (1248758) | more than 3 years ago | (#35647372)

Unlimited energy won't save the world, we'd just die from the heat given off by our technology (waste heat) instead of global warming (sunlight).

Re:So it's a solar cell.... (4, Interesting)

rubycodez (864176) | more than 3 years ago | (#35647746)

Normal solar panels have albedo of 0.35, which is close to average of earth 0.30. We'd be far better off thermally using that than burning fossil fuel or fissioning atoms. However, comparing the energy input of the sun to what man generates, the fraction is so very tiny that the global direct thermal effects (not greenhouse gases which is another discussion) of our power generation in essentially zero.

Re:So it's a solar cell.... (1)

PopeRatzo (965947) | more than 3 years ago | (#35647768)

and/or get some near-unlimited fuel source, like fusion.

I thought solar energy was fusion.

Why are there some people who are so intent on limiting us to sources of energy where something either get burned or blowed up real good? I mean to the point where it seems like they'd support laws preventing anyone from using any form of energy that doesn't either involve the use of a scarce poisonous resource or involve waste materials that are deadly for millennia. I'm not saying that's artor3, but jesus, the absolute dismissal of renewable energy from some people really makes you wonder what's going on subconsciously. I think it can be traced back to Ronald Reagan ripping off the solar powers placed on the White House by his predecessor, as if they were an abomination in the eyes of god. OK, so he didn't think we were ready to stop using oil in 1980, but it's the level of hostility toward even investigating the possibility of renewable energy that I find so surprising. And that same hostility is on evidence continually in some comments here.

Artor3, I'm sorry to attach this to your comment but I think about your dismissal of "5% efficiency" ("meh") that made me think about this. How "efficient" is a device that burns a gallon of refined crude oil that has to be drilled from miles beneath the ocean floor to go 40 miles? Is that also a "meh"? How "efficient" is a form of energy that has created 7200 tons of radioactive waste that's got to be stored safely forever? I don't know how many "near-unlimited" fusion plants we've got operating at the moment, but we've got solar panels on a coupla hundred thousand rooftops in Germany that are pumping several gigawatts of energy into the grid right now. My guess is that these panels will get better. That "5% efficiency, meh" is not going to be the pinnacle of this technology. And why are so many people who congregate at a website that celebrates the rather amazing technical advances of the past fifty years suddenly so sure that there's this one technology (solar energy) that will never improve, will never develop beyond those panels that Reagan tore asunder and burned on the White House lawn in a sacrifice to the great god Exxon?

5.5% of the energy in sunlight into hydrogen fuel (2)

Culture20 (968837) | more than 3 years ago | (#35646702)

Ooo, 5.5%. And it's *potentially* cheap!

Re:5.5% of the energy in sunlight into hydrogen fu (1)

dunng808 (448849) | more than 3 years ago | (#35646792)

According to Robin Williams, who as an alien should know what he is talking about, hydrogen as fuel for cars should be avoided. Remember the Hindenburg? Personally I don't car about the fuel, I just want my flying car.

Re:5.5% of the energy in sunlight into hydrogen fu (1)

Barrinmw (1791848) | more than 3 years ago | (#35646888)

I know you are joking, but isn't hydrogen in hydrogen fuel cells stored as Lithium borohydride which isn't really explosive?

Re:5.5% of the energy in sunlight into hydrogen fu (1)

UnknowingFool (672806) | more than 3 years ago | (#35647344)

According to Robin Williams, who as an alien should know what he is talking about, hydrogen as fuel for cars should be avoided. Remember the Hindenburg? Personally I don't car about the fuel, I just want my flying car.

While hydrogen is flammable, there are doubts about it being the true cause of the disaster. Based on eyewitness accounts, the fire was bright red while hydrogen burns blue. There are competing theories like the paint composing of aluminum.

Re:5.5% of the energy in sunlight into hydrogen fu (1)

phantomfive (622387) | more than 3 years ago | (#35647712)

While hydrogen is flammable, there are doubts about it being the true cause of the disaster. Based on eyewitness accounts, the fire was bright red while hydrogen burns blue. There are competing theories like the paint composing of aluminum.

Alright then, I guess it's ok to fly through the air in blimps filled with hydrogen. Sure.

Re:5.5% of the energy in sunlight into hydrogen fu (1)

Shikaku (1129753) | more than 3 years ago | (#35646860)

Which is utterly pointless and just a factor to increase for more energy output. Wasted energy by not being able to absorb sunlight isn't a big deal: there's sunlight everywhere on average half of the day, barring clouds; wasted energy in gasoline is bad for example because there's limited amounts and/or it's expensive. The energy output/$ is much more important, as well as the ease and resource to make it.

Re:5.5% of the energy in sunlight into hydrogen fu (1)

oliverthered (187439) | more than 3 years ago | (#35646938)

normal solar is at about 25% or something.... I'm not sure what conversion rates to hydrogen (or something portable and storeable) are, batteries are generally crap,

Current best processes have an efficiency of 50% to 80%,

So assume 'real cheap' where talking maybe 10% efficiency using normal solar... so it only has to be 'half' the price and it's cost effective... and I'd assume the efficiency will go up.

Re:5.5% of the energy in sunlight into hydrogen fu (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#35647214)

"This means that in theory, anyone with access to water can use it to create a cheap, clean, and available source of fuel.""

access to water and a hydrogen rated compressor.

This is how it goes (4, Insightful)

alex_guy_CA (748887) | more than 3 years ago | (#35646746)

See cool science article.

Get excited.

Read comments.

Excitement crushed.

Re:This is how it goes (1)

monkyyy (1901940) | more than 3 years ago | (#35646876)

read comments

see one with a source that sounds like something i`d be interested in

see troll rating

avoid

Re:This is how it goes (1)

AbbyNormal (216235) | more than 3 years ago | (#35647252)

"Excitement crushed."

Your forgot:

Profit!

Re:This is how it goes (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#35647504)

See cool science article.

Get excited.

Read comments.

Excitement crushed.

Lather. Rinse. Repeat. Welcome to the Internet.

Apply to head (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#35646756)

When applied to head it spontaneously regrows hair on bald men - best of all its reusable so earth friendly

I bought . . . (1)

hduff (570443) | more than 3 years ago | (#35646766)

. . . some of those pills from Charles Elton that turn water into gasoline. I was going to use it in my car with a Charles Nelson Pogue carburetor. Get a bazillion miles to the gallon. Put them A-rabs out of business. But the GOVERNMENT agents stole my stuff and deny everything!

Science fantsasy now becomes science fact.

Or did it?

MIT invents everything (3, Informative)

RabidRabbit23 (1576305) | more than 3 years ago | (#35646772)

I saw a presentation on exactly this technology a few years ago at a conference, not from an MIT researcher. It's a strange phenomena, but within science MIT is just one of many research institutions doing great work, but to the public it has the most significant and frequent press releases. I mean, this isn't even a leaf, it's a silicon wafer which happens to be green and splitting water using catalysts is very old. The only innovation I'm seeing here is a new catalyst, which is pretty common in these fields. I also like the token quote from Bob Grubbs who won a Nobel prize in catalyst research and thus is interviewed in every catalyst article.

Re:MIT invents everything (0)

Jennifer3000 (921441) | more than 3 years ago | (#35647170)

Yeah... you mean "phenomenon" - the singular form of the noun. Again, please learn correct spelling, or have your computer do it for you if you don't know how, or are too lazy.

Re:MIT invents everything (2)

Rakshasa Taisab (244699) | more than 3 years ago | (#35647420)

"Only invention here is a new catalyst"?

I would not be so quick to downplay the significance of finding a _CHEAP_ catalyst, when platinum was what was used before. That's pretty damn significant if it means mass-produced wafers costs plummet.

hmm whats the catch 22? (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#35646780)

evil mech-treants which are a new form of cyborg life to dwarf our primitive digestive system.

10x more efficient than photosynthesis?! (2)

wisebabo (638845) | more than 3 years ago | (#35646884)

According to a similar article in science daily http://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2011/03/110327191042.htm [sciencedaily.com] it is 10x more efficient than (natural) photosynthesis.

I'm amazed that the foundation of life on earth is so inefficient (one tenth of 5.5% is only .55%!). Is this right? If it is then I'm glad our solar devices may not have to cover up too much of our planet to generate the energy we need (but if we ever develop solar powered self-replicating nano-bots, they will totally out-compete the natural biosphere).

Also, if this is true, then isn't this a major reason against using biofuels? I mean in addition to this inefficiency of photosynthesis, you've still got to convert it into some sort of fuel (but I guess the same is true of this artificial leaf; hydrogen is not the most practical of fuels). I guess maybe biofuels are still in the running because they can be "manufactured" very cheaply (farming and fermentation) with thousands of years of technology developed. (Or maybe it is the politics of the farming lobby).

(I'm also amazed that they used water from the Charles river in Boston and that it still worked. I remember a time when an accidental dunking in the none-too-clean river meant a quick trip to the doctor's office for shots!)

Re:10x more efficient than photosynthesis?! (1)

Thing 1 (178996) | more than 3 years ago | (#35646954)

(I'm also amazed that they used water from the Charles river in Boston and that it still worked. I remember a time when an accidental dunking in the none-too-clean river meant a quick trip to the doctor's office for shots!)

"Love that dirty water; Boston you're my home." (Thanks for the memory. :)

Re:10x more efficient than photosynthesis?! (4, Informative)

loshwomp (468955) | more than 3 years ago | (#35646990)

I'm amazed that the foundation of life on earth is so inefficient (one tenth of 5.5% is only .55%!). Is this right?

Somewhere on that order, yes.

Also, if this is true, then isn't this a major reason against using biofuels?

Exactly. Plants are ~1% efficient at harvesting solar energy, and we have much better collectors (photovoltaics) that are much more efficient (15-20% in mass production) and generate energy in a more versatile form (electricity).

Re:10x more efficient than photosynthesis?! (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#35647282)

That's because plants aren't trying to make "energy", they're trying to make "plant".

That said, a hydrogen producing cell is all well and good, but you're still left with the same problem hydrogen has now: how do you transport it? This system only makes the problem worse: How do you collect tiny amounts of hydrogen gas from millions of "leaves" and ship it to where it's needed.

Answer: You don't.

It's MUCH easier to ship electrons ... they're called wires.

Re:10x more efficient than photosynthesis?! (5, Informative)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#35647128)

Plants limit their photosynthetic efficiency largely because raising it too high starts raising the internal temperature, which raises the rate at which they lose water. Basically, they are tuned to gather 'enough' energy without wasting water (which is rarer for them than sunlight) rather than extracting as much energy from the sun as they can. Biofuels are usually suggested not because they are efficient, but because they are cheap and work fairly well with our existing infrastructure.

Re:10x more efficient than photosynthesis?! (2)

yndrd1984 (730475) | more than 3 years ago | (#35647332)

they are tuned to gather 'enough' energy without wasting water (which is rarer for them than sunlight)

True. Except for the plants that grow in rain forests, or the ocean, or lakes, or swamps, or rivers, or ...

Re:10x more efficient than photosynthesis?! (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#35647562)

Green is the part of the spectrum carrying the most energy to Earth. That plants look green means that they're reflecting it, and not using it. Plants evolved not using the most energy rich source of the spectrum for some reason; photosynthesis originally emerged utilizing green spectrum, and plants using chloroplasts came later.

Re:10x more efficient than photosynthesis?! (1)

angel'o'sphere (80593) | more than 3 years ago | (#35647426)

I'm amazed that the foundation of life on earth is so inefficient (one tenth of 5.5% is only .55%!). Is this right? If it is then I'm glad our solar devices may not have to cover up too much of our planet to generate the energy we need (but if we ever develop solar powered self-replicating nano-bots, they will totally out-compete the natural biosphere).

There are many situations where efficiency does not matter at all.
Imagine a 5x5 yards (25 plates) of "energy harvester" on your roof would give you all the energy you want. Assuming it costs you $100 to buy and install.
Now someone comes with a 1x1 yard big plate doing the same, costing only $10 to buy and install. Obviously it is 25 times more efficient. And cheaper as well.
However regarding rood space, who cares? So you only have to ask yourself about the price ... perhaps delivery time and installation time is an issue.

angel'o'sphere

Re:10x more efficient than photosynthesis?! (1)

sonamchauhan (587356) | more than 3 years ago | (#35647642)

I am not so sure photosynthesis is inefficient.

In one-quadrillionth of a second a plant can take the sun’s light and transfer it to the chlorophyll molecules (which give the plant its green pigmentation) in its light-harvesting centre. This process, a critical component of photosynthesis, is the most efficient energy-transfer process known, yet in many ways it is still poorly understood.

http://www.swinburne.edu.au/magazine/5/112/photosynthesis-comes-into-the-light/ [swinburne.edu.au]

Isn't it better with traditional electrolysis? (2)

Jason Pollock (45537) | more than 3 years ago | (#35646916)

According to wikipedia, http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Electrolysis_of_water [wikipedia.org] , traditional electrolysis is 50-80% efficient, and solar cells are ~20%.

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Solar_cell_efficiency [wikipedia.org]

Therefore, the efficiency of using the solar panel to power electrolysis would be .2*.5 -> .2*.8 = 10% -> 16%, wouldn't it?

So, unless there's a pretty substantial price benefit to the cell, where's the benefit?

Re:Isn't it better with traditional electrolysis? (3, Informative)

im_thatoneguy (819432) | more than 3 years ago | (#35647014)

It's made from copper and cobalt instead of a lot of the more exotic materials used in standard photo-voltaic cells.

Re:Isn't it better with traditional electrolysis? (3, Insightful)

loshwomp (468955) | more than 3 years ago | (#35647078)

So, unless there's a pretty substantial price benefit to the cell, where's the benefit?

As you have discovered, the economics are precisely the key to solar energy. The power density (Watts/m^2) is unimportant, except for installations with unique constraints (e.g. spacecraft). For terrestrial applications, Watts/$ is the most interesting term.

Similarly, for economic reasons, I don't think electrolysis (or H2) is likely to succeed on a wide scale. The dirty secret of the H2 "economy" is that the hydrogen fuel cell cycle has a round trip efficiency of about 25%. A fuel cell is effectively a battery, and we already have substantially better batteries at a tiny fraction of the cost.

Re:Isn't it better with traditional electrolysis? (1)

zdepthcharge (1792770) | more than 3 years ago | (#35647608)

From an economic P.O.V. how effective would this tech be for countries that do not have a decent power infrastructure? This may not be viable for those ensconced in the comfortable western economies, but perhaps if you live in a hut on the edge of a desert in Africa..?

wonder what the 3 metals are? (2)

slew (2918) | more than 3 years ago | (#35646932)

Yesterday, Nocera reported devising a cheap catalyst that uses three different metals to form H2, getting around the platinum problem. Nocera didn't reveal the makeup of the new catalyst, as the work is not yet published, and he is in the process of patenting it.

Before we get too excited, apparently most of his research to date has been with cobalt, phosporus, tungstun and rhodium. Not sure where all this stuff comes from, but hopefully it is widespread enough won't turn into another middle east problem.

Also, at 5.5% efficiency, we would probably need quite a bit of this stuff which may cause some environmental issues by itself (mining, industrial polution, etc).

As a side note, many people talk about cutting back on petrol consumption as doing our part to reduce the demand for oil which comes from the problematic middle east, but I rarely hear of folks cutting back on electronics "toy" consumption to reduce the demand for coltan (the ore where much of the tantalum for capacitors comes from) which is causing huge problems for countries like the republic of congo. Haven't heard much about the coltan topic on /. Just be cause it's "electronic" and doesn't use oil doesn't mean it's better when scaled to industrial quantitites.

Not saying this proposed "artificial leaf" technology could definitly cause this kind of natural resource scarcity/extraction problem, but the sad fact is that if this becomes industrialized, it may not be much better than what we have today and most folks aren't even aware of the problems we have today (or even care).

Not in great places (1)

sjbe (173966) | more than 3 years ago | (#35647710)

most of his research to date has been with cobalt, phosporus, tungstun and rhodium. Not sure where all this stuff comes from, but hopefully it is widespread enough won't turn into another middle east problem.

Production locations for:
Cobalt [wikipedia.org]
Phosphorus [wikipedia.org]
Tungsten [wikipedia.org]
Rhodium [wikipedia.org]

Not looking good...

Fake Plastic Trees (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#35647086)

I know how to power my new 2011 ford steam engine! With a plastic fire. Now off to eBay for some bushels of Fake Plastic Trees

Already old news (1)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#35647094)

This was on NOVA two months ago! http://www.pbs.org/wgbh/nova/tech/making-stuff-cleaner.html

louis vuitton (-1)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#35647102)

louis vuitton outlet [buylouisvu...outlet.org] store has recently launched at online store,the exquisite craftsmanship and modern design would satisfy your desire. buy louis vuitton [buylouisvu...outlet.org] would make you feel confort and easy to use.and louis vuitton outlet also well-known for its fine quality so you can rest asured.welcome to visit it don't lose this opportunity

Orbit (1)

Charliemopps (1157495) | more than 3 years ago | (#35647148)

For solar power to work and be economically viable, it needs to be in orbit. Period. No solar cell, no matter how efficient is going to be viable under an atmosphere. We should have a new space race to build a space elevator... once its complete we can have all the orbital arrays we want for cheap. Near limitless power.

Re:Orbit (2)

currently_awake (1248758) | more than 3 years ago | (#35647482)

A space elevator changes everything, but until then given the astronomical cost of getting anything into orbit it would be cheaper to just build a much bigger solar array with batteries on earth.

Re:Orbit (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#35647570)

So compressed hydrogen doesn't have enough storage density to replace batteries, eh? If space isn't a limiting factor, just have huge hydrogen storage tanks to store your energy for nighttime / cloudy days / winter. Man, they'd have to be HUGE. We need the elevator!

turn out that light! (1)

FudRucker (866063) | more than 3 years ago | (#35647198)

you think leaves grow on trees!?

interesting, come back and tell me when i can get an electricity tree at Home Depot or Lowes'

It doesn't sound very good tech (1)

tp_xyzzy (1575867) | more than 3 years ago | (#35647202)

From the article and the details they're giving, it doesn't sound very good way to produce fuel. First the sunlight has very low efficiency. And if you're splitting water, you won't get any more energy out than what you could utilize from the sun's energy. And everyone who has spent any time outside during summer knows that the amount of energy that hits the earth can warm it slightly, but it hardly has enough energy to move your car. This means that we'd need to cover very large amount of earth's surface with these panels until you can drive significant number of cars with this fuel.

The reason why oil can move your car is because it took a million years for plants to store energy which was then converted to oil. It's not very good if you need to wait million years before you can drive half a mile with your car. With this tech that splits water, you'd actually keep the panels working for thousands of years before you can get enough fuel....

Once we run out of oil, we will have big problems. Hopefully by that time, they can get cold fusion to work reliably and make it run our cars.

good (0)

kerrykoyi (2026638) | more than 3 years ago | (#35647234)

See cool science article. Get excited. dress [wholesale-dress.net]

swarovski crystals (1)

nancy110 (2011906) | more than 3 years ago | (#35647350)

Swarovski [swarovski-outlet.com] is the brand name for a range of precisely-cut crystal and related luxury products produced by Swarovski. Swarovski Crystals [swarovski-outlet.com] ,These high-quality Austrian crystals are available in hundreds of beautiful styles and colors.In addition, We provide Swarovski beads [swarovski-outlet.com] which add life and sparkle to any jewellery design.The reason for their popularity is that they sparkle andshine like diamonds.Welcome to visit our website to select any products you prefer.

Better than current technology! (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#35647490)

Even though the efficiency is only 5.5%, while solar cells are several times more efficient, these silicon wafers are actually better. It sounds like they're cheap since they don't use platinum or gallium (and using cheap materials was the goal) BUT no PEM electrolyzer stack is required!! All you need is the wafer and sunlight to make H2 and O2!!! (It's like the solar cells AND the electrolyzer all in one). This is awesome! I wish I had like many square meters of this stuff so I can throw it in a pool and water the hydrogen and oxygen bubble from them!! How cool! Unlimited fuel! I wonder how fast you can collect like one cubic foot of H2 from a playing-card sized wafer in direct sunlight.... I guess I can calculate that based on the efficiency....naw... I need a beer.

Grid storage at last! (1)

jms (11418) | more than 3 years ago | (#35647534)

It seems to me like this would be a good candidate for grid storage. Say you had a solar farm with both conventional solar cells and this new technology. When the sun shines, the regular solar cells both provide the product energy from the power plant, and also operate pumps that pressurize the hydrogen and oxygen coming off of the new cells. At night and when clouds come overhead, the system switches to fuel cells to burn the stored hydrogen and oxgen, regenerating the water in the process, and keeping the power plant producing electricity through the night. Thus, you overcome the biggest problem with solar power plants -- their intermittancy. Such a power plant, properly designed, should be able to produce continual power effectively indefinitely, barring extremely long periods of overcast weather. The "nighttime" capacity of the power plant would be a function of the size of the hydrogen tanks you could store on site -- and I believe that pressurized gas tanks scale upwards very cheaply and easily. As a bonus, the water in the system would be continually contained and recycled, making the system attractive for use in arid places like deserts where solar is most profitable.

Hopefully it will turn out to be cheap in practice and can be used this way.

Gee (1)

okmijnuhb (575581) | more than 3 years ago | (#35647538)

Gee, someone solved the energy problem. Why am I still skeptical?

How do you separate the H2 and O2? (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#35647780)

Instead of storing a dangerous, readily combustible mixture of H2 and O2 from this process, is it easy to isolate the 2 gases and store them separately?

Hydrogen not even used universally in rockets (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#35647794)

Hydrogen is the most efficient rocket fuel be quite a margin. But even in rockets where performance is that important it's not universally used. Why?
For one it's a bitch to handle. Leaks through tiny holes, goes into/through metals, forms explosive gas. It's difficult to store, and it's low density even in liquid form (70kg/m^3). So you have to build huge, massive tanks.
If even in rocketry terms it's difficult to handle, what makes those hydrogen proponents think it will be manageable in a large scale?

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