water, a Sun Catalytix prototype.
Drawing from nature, Massachusetts Institute of Technology professor Daniel
Nocera thinks he can draw cheap and clean energy from water.
At the National Meeting of the American Chemical Society, Nocera yesterday
presented results from research on making an “artificial leaf” to split water to
get hydrogen fuel and oxygen. The goal is to use the solar cell to make
hydrogen, which would be stored and then used in a fuel cell to make
“The artificial leaf shows particular promise as an inexpensive source of
electricity for homes of the poor in developing countries. Our goal is to make
each home its own power station,” Nocera said in a statement.
In 2009, Nocera and others created Sun Catalytix to commercialize
his work on relatively cheap catalysts made from nickel and cobalt for a device
called an electrolyzer that splits water into hydrogen and oxygen. The company
in the fall raised more money from Indian industrial giant Tata.
Using a $4 million grant from the Advanced Research Projects Agency-Energy
(ARPA-E), researchers at Sun Catalytix began work on their second-generation
product. Rather than use an electrolyzer to make hydrogen, this product would
make hydrogen directly from a solar cell. That would mean a renewable source for
the hydrogen fuel and electricity.
Until now, research yielded very low efficiencies in converting sunlight to
hydrogen using a solar cell. Nocera yesterday said that researchers are
optimistic they can boost the efficiency rate and the durability of the
material. In the lab, he said that an artificial leaf prototype operated for 45
hours without a degradation in performance.
At the ARPA-E Summit earlier this
month where Sun Catalytix showed a prototype of its second-generation
product, company executives said the research will take a few years to complete
and about three to five years to create a commercial product.