Clean Power

Published on March 27th, 2009 | by Derek Markham

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MIT Professor: Power Your House With 5 Liters of Water Per Day

March 27th, 2009 by  

 
water hydrogen

At the Aspen Environment Forum today, MIT professor Dan Nocera gave a revolutionary picture of the new energy economy with an assertion that our homes will be our power plants and our fuel stations, powered by sunlight and water. And it’s not science fiction.
 


 
Nocera stated that even if we put all available acreage into fuel crops, all available acreage in wind power, and build a new nuclear power plant every 1.5 days, and we save 100% of our current energy use (yes, you read that correctly), we will still come up short by 2050. His estimate is that we will need 16 TW of energy production by then, and with our current methods, we won’t get there.

But there is a solution. And we don’t need to invent anything new to get from here to there.

Nocera said that MIT will announce its patent next week of a cheap, efficient, manufacturable electrolyzer made from cobalt and potassium phosphate. This technology, powered by a 6 meter by 5 meter photovoltaic array on the roof, is capable of powering an entire house’s power needs plus a fuel cell good for 500 km of travel, with just 5 liters of water.

The new electrolyzer works at room temperature (“It would work in this water glass right here”) to efficiently produce hydrogen and oxygen gases from water in a simple manner, which will enable a return to using sunlight for our primary energy source.

This technology will decentralize power production and provide true energy independence. The details of implementation still need to be worked out, but Nocera says that fears of hydrogen technology (safety) are unfounded, as companies that work with these gases have the capability to safely store and use them.  “It’s safer than natural gas. You burn that in your house with an open flame. Now that’s dangerous.”

Image: emrank at Flickr under Creative Commons


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About the Author

lives in southwestern New Mexico and digs bicycles, simple living, organic gardening, sustainable lifestyle design, slacklining, bouldering, and permaculture. He loves good food, with fresh roasted chiles at the top of his list of favorites. Catch up with Derek on Twitter, Google+, or at his natural parenting site, Natural Papa!



  • FreeManinAmerica

    Unicorn farts and rainbows work even better! Algore for president!!!

  • john

    I don’t see why we couldn’t build our own hydrogen generators big enough to run our hot water heater, gas stove for cooking, gas heat, generator, etc.

    • Bob_Wallace

      We probably could. Extracting hydrogen from water is pretty simple. Compressing gases is pretty simple.

      It comes down to cost. Hydrogen is simply a way to store energy, and an inefficient one. By the time you pay for the equipment to store and use hydrogen along with the extra electricity (lost energy) going in the front end you will probably realize there are less expensive options.

  • Roy Wagner
    • Bob_Wallace

      Tell us what is in your link. Not many of us want to spend time watching videos or opening pages for no apparent reason.

      • Roy Wagner

        The video link posted
        “http://cleantechnica.com/2008/10/25/mit-energy-storage-discovery-could-lead-to-unlimited-solar-power/”
        did not work,
        This video link does work

        • Bob_Wallace

          Thanks.

  • HarloweThrombey

    If we built a new nuclear power plant every 1.5 days, we wouldn’t meet our energy needs? That seems crazy. Like a crazy made-up statistic. One Hundred (much less, One Thousand) new nuclear plants might be a disaster for other reasons, but we’d CERTAINLY meet our energy needs. I hate phony statisticians.

    If he’s telling the truth about the ease of this invention/process though…. then he’s still involved in something great. But the phony statistic makes me wonder.

    • Bob_Wallace

      Do the math. Show us your numbers.

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  • sujoy

    Here is one thing about fuel-cell :- using hydrogen as a fuel will be good enough .But Hydrogen have a much less escape velocity ….that is why it rarely can be found in environment in our planet. And there will always be leakage during handling of the gas how little the amount ma be .And that will result hydrogen less world.!!!!!!!!

  • sujoy

    Here is one thing about fuel-cell :- using hydrogen as a fuel will be good enough .But Hydrogen have a much less escape velocity ….that is why it rarely can be found in environment in our planet. And there will always be leakage during handling of the gas how little the amount ma be .And that will result hydrogen less world.!!!!!!!!

    • cody

      why would we need to find it? can’t it be produced through electrolysis?

  • Yosemite1967

    You know, non-elitist people have been claiming to do this for years and years, but the mainstream scientific communities have laughed them to scorn.

    Why is it that when an MIT professor merely “copy cats” what has been done repeatedly by so many others (with less glowing credentials), people fawn all over him? Stop rewarding (and worshipping) elitists for stealing non-elitists ideas!

  • Yosemite1967

    You know, non-elitist people have been claiming to do this for years and years, but the mainstream scientific communities have laughed them to scorn.

    Why is it that when an MIT professor merely “copy cats” what has been done repeatedly by so many others (with less glowing credentials), people fawn all over him? Stop rewarding (and worshipping) elitists for stealing non-elitists ideas!

  • I think this sounds like a great idea, but we still ought to look at multiple power sources rather than put all our eggs into one basket.

    Should, for example, something happen like a huge volcanic eruption, and the sun is blotted out for months or years, similar to Krakatoa, solar power would mostly fail, but there would still be wind power or tidal power, plus the conventional means.

  • I think this sounds like a great idea, but we still ought to look at multiple power sources rather than put all our eggs into one basket.

    Should, for example, something happen like a huge volcanic eruption, and the sun is blotted out for months or years, similar to Krakatoa, solar power would mostly fail, but there would still be wind power or tidal power, plus the conventional means.

  • ComeOnDan

    There Dan goes again! Crazy hype that got him in trouble last time. I know he needs more funding but come on Dan!

    Fact is, we already can do what he is claiming. You can even go to YouTube and check out the house.

    The problem is the cost. Cost Dan! It’s just as important as the technology because there are going to be competitors. Maybe PV and batteries will cost less, be quick-charge capable, be safer and lighter (overall system).

    Thus, just go down to the store and by some PV panels, order up an elecrolyzer, buy some storage tanks and a few fuel cells and you can have a system up and running in a month or so, depending how handy you are with tools.

    The ONLY thing Dan is claiming is that he found a way to improve the efficiency of the electrolyzer. He over hyped it before and said maybe we will see it operational in 10 years. Wow! Thanks.

    So, How about we just say, “Sure Dan, just show me it working and tell me what it will cost.”

    Sorry Dan but you have lost major credibility by shooting your mouth off. How about constrain a bit and just show us. Talk is cheap, unless it’s just to get more funding. If you don’t deliver on your word even the fools wise up eventually.

  • ComeOnDan

    There Dan goes again! Crazy hype that got him in trouble last time. I know he needs more funding but come on Dan!

    Fact is, we already can do what he is claiming. You can even go to YouTube and check out the house.

    The problem is the cost. Cost Dan! It’s just as important as the technology because there are going to be competitors. Maybe PV and batteries will cost less, be quick-charge capable, be safer and lighter (overall system).

    Thus, just go down to the store and by some PV panels, order up an elecrolyzer, buy some storage tanks and a few fuel cells and you can have a system up and running in a month or so, depending how handy you are with tools.

    The ONLY thing Dan is claiming is that he found a way to improve the efficiency of the electrolyzer. He over hyped it before and said maybe we will see it operational in 10 years. Wow! Thanks.

    So, How about we just say, “Sure Dan, just show me it working and tell me what it will cost.”

    Sorry Dan but you have lost major credibility by shooting your mouth off. How about constrain a bit and just show us. Talk is cheap, unless it’s just to get more funding. If you don’t deliver on your word even the fools wise up eventually.

  • Aaron

    I studied the publication from Sciene and the podcast that Nocera was interviewed in. The oxygen separating electrode is distinct from the hydrogen electrode. According to Nocera this year they will be publishing another efficient electrode for the hydrogen side of the electrolytic cell. Normally platinum is used, obviously this is impractical for wide scale use. The current tech works with neutral pH water but is also being actively designed to work in the higher saline environment of ocean water. This will allow people to pipe ocean water in to a city, split the water in the cell, recombine it in a fuel cell to make drinkable water. This would kill a lot of birds with one stone.

    If you are worried about storage and transfer of hydrogen, simply read the latest news on this at Science Daily news.com Its happening.

  • Aaron

    I studied the publication from Sciene and the podcast that Nocera was interviewed in. The oxygen separating electrode is distinct from the hydrogen electrode. According to Nocera this year they will be publishing another efficient electrode for the hydrogen side of the electrolytic cell. Normally platinum is used, obviously this is impractical for wide scale use. The current tech works with neutral pH water but is also being actively designed to work in the higher saline environment of ocean water. This will allow people to pipe ocean water in to a city, split the water in the cell, recombine it in a fuel cell to make drinkable water. This would kill a lot of birds with one stone.

    If you are worried about storage and transfer of hydrogen, simply read the latest news on this at Science Daily news.com Its happening.

  • Vikramdev Rao

    If it does become a reality I hope they decide to distribute the technology free so that trees will stop being cut for fuel and the world can become a better place to live in

  • Vikramdev Rao

    If it does become a reality I hope they decide to distribute the technology free so that trees will stop being cut for fuel and the world can become a better place to live in

  • Uncle B

    Astounding negative comments! If: separation of water into O2 and H2 is done and fed to fuel cell yielding more power than PV cells charging batteries yield, you have a game changing advantage. If the array doing the trick does it for less cash outlay than the equivalent P.V. array, you beat Solar photo voltaic – but by what margins? Electrolysis is hard on current. Is this new method more efficient? by what factor? A factor of X 2 would mean a scientific revolution and the end of nuclear power plants in the U.S.A.! Plus, for “overnight ” power, we can easily store H2 and O2! And, for Peak Power, same applies – and we are using conventional technologies save for the “Miracle Cell” that must, yield high levels of O2 and H2 for a given input of sun! Now, just what does MIT have? Can they get more efficiency out of a solar driven gas producing array, connected to a fuel cell to consume the same, and get more juice out of it than say Photo voltaic or even solar/thermal plants? If so, they have a winner and will change the face of Solar energy – if you happen to own a desert of parts of South Western U.S.A. but nothing changes for northern countries, they still await a parallel, Wind miracle, and in the mean time look to nuclear to save their radiant energy deficient asses. I suppose only the MIT patents will allow a real evaluation here.

  • Uncle B

    Astounding negative comments! If: separation of water into O2 and H2 is done and fed to fuel cell yielding more power than PV cells charging batteries yield, you have a game changing advantage. If the array doing the trick does it for less cash outlay than the equivalent P.V. array, you beat Solar photo voltaic – but by what margins? Electrolysis is hard on current. Is this new method more efficient? by what factor? A factor of X 2 would mean a scientific revolution and the end of nuclear power plants in the U.S.A.! Plus, for “overnight ” power, we can easily store H2 and O2! And, for Peak Power, same applies – and we are using conventional technologies save for the “Miracle Cell” that must, yield high levels of O2 and H2 for a given input of sun! Now, just what does MIT have? Can they get more efficiency out of a solar driven gas producing array, connected to a fuel cell to consume the same, and get more juice out of it than say Photo voltaic or even solar/thermal plants? If so, they have a winner and will change the face of Solar energy – if you happen to own a desert of parts of South Western U.S.A. but nothing changes for northern countries, they still await a parallel, Wind miracle, and in the mean time look to nuclear to save their radiant energy deficient asses. I suppose only the MIT patents will allow a real evaluation here.

  • h2o

    These claims sound an awful lot like what Stan Meyer claimed to have done decades ago. If you don’t know who he was I suggest doing some research…

    If you read his wiki they make him out to be a hoaxer but his tech was verifiably purchased by the DoD. His wiki claims perpetual motion machine. I don’t see where there is a difference between what Stan was doing and what MIT is claiming.

  • h2o

    These claims sound an awful lot like what Stan Meyer claimed to have done decades ago. If you don’t know who he was I suggest doing some research…

    If you read his wiki they make him out to be a hoaxer but his tech was verifiably purchased by the DoD. His wiki claims perpetual motion machine. I don’t see where there is a difference between what Stan was doing and what MIT is claiming.

  • Bruce S

    It amazes me how people like Paul can read a reprocessed press release and instantly conclude that the MIT professor is a fraud, who either can’t add or is deliberately trying to pull the wool over the eyes of gullible (i.e., non-Paul) funders…

    Paul, whoever you are (and I’m sure you’ll maintain your obscurity as well as your anonymity), I salute you.

  • Bruce S

    It amazes me how people like Paul can read a reprocessed press release and instantly conclude that the MIT professor is a fraud, who either can’t add or is deliberately trying to pull the wool over the eyes of gullible (i.e., non-Paul) funders…

    Paul, whoever you are (and I’m sure you’ll maintain your obscurity as well as your anonymity), I salute you.

  • gunzmith

    what kind of generator can i hook to my dryer vent to trap all this waste heat energy and convert it to electricity??

  • gunzmith

    what kind of generator can i hook to my dryer vent to trap all this waste heat energy and convert it to electricity??

  • gunzmith

    here is how to seperate oxygen from hydrogen in water…pour your glass of water on a dry towel….hang across a chair back or towel rack or closeline for 2 hrs …all hydrogen will be separated from oxygen in the water….its also good for the sinuses

  • gunzmith

    here is how to seperate oxygen from hydrogen in water…pour your glass of water on a dry towel….hang across a chair back or towel rack or closeline for 2 hrs …all hydrogen will be separated from oxygen in the water….its also good for the sinuses

  • Adam

    On a separate note, I had a couple of questions perhaps someone else can answer:

    – Does the water used in electrolysis need to be distilled?

    – How much energy (in Joules or kWh?) is it possible to generate from the Hydrogen contained in one litre of water?

  • Adam

    On a separate note, I had a couple of questions perhaps someone else can answer:

    – Does the water used in electrolysis need to be distilled?

    – How much energy (in Joules or kWh?) is it possible to generate from the Hydrogen contained in one litre of water?

  • Adam

    I tend to agree with most of the comments here. Scientists, environmentalists, and idealists, as invaluable as they all are (and I consider myself a bit of each), tend to forget certain issues associated with the invention and subsequent adoption of technology.

    It’s one thing to say “this piece of technology can do something efficiently and economically” but it’s entirely another to put it into every home on the globe. Indeed, energy consumption will likely grow at an exponential rate into the next half-century, but we need to focus on WHERE this growth is coming from. Most industrialized nations’ (“western”) energy consumption has remained relatively constant, and will continue to do so. Thus, the question becomes “how do we put one of these into every home in the rest of the world… in the slums of Bangladesh, the farms of China, and the mountains of Columbia?”

    We need to take this news with an understanding that the adoption rate of new technologies is EXTREMELY slow in a consumer-based economy. Tech companies typically spend a decade developing a new technology before it hits the mainstream. In this case, let’s all hope for the best but plan for the likely!

  • Adam

    I tend to agree with most of the comments here. Scientists, environmentalists, and idealists, as invaluable as they all are (and I consider myself a bit of each), tend to forget certain issues associated with the invention and subsequent adoption of technology.

    It’s one thing to say “this piece of technology can do something efficiently and economically” but it’s entirely another to put it into every home on the globe. Indeed, energy consumption will likely grow at an exponential rate into the next half-century, but we need to focus on WHERE this growth is coming from. Most industrialized nations’ (“western”) energy consumption has remained relatively constant, and will continue to do so. Thus, the question becomes “how do we put one of these into every home in the rest of the world… in the slums of Bangladesh, the farms of China, and the mountains of Columbia?”

    We need to take this news with an understanding that the adoption rate of new technologies is EXTREMELY slow in a consumer-based economy. Tech companies typically spend a decade developing a new technology before it hits the mainstream. In this case, let’s all hope for the best but plan for the likely!

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  • eeeehaw

    Sounds brilliant. There’s already been water eletrolyzers for diesel semis for the past 13 yrs that supplement the ICE’s primary fuel to increase efficiency & power, and they’re finally becoming avaialble at a reasonable price for cars (Ronn Motors even introduced a new exotic sports car, the Scorpion, that does 200mph & 40mpg). Taking this concept & applying it to home use, powered by PV solar, seems like a logical application. So what if the predicted efficiency is off (such an error wouldn’t earn much of a grade at MIT, by the way)…with “free” solar energy you either run it longer & store it, or build a larger system.

    What seems like more of a limiting factor would be the impact this would have on scarce water supplies in certain areas, eg SoCal, AZ, etc, which is getting worse.

  • eeeehaw

    Sounds brilliant. There’s already been water eletrolyzers for diesel semis for the past 13 yrs that supplement the ICE’s primary fuel to increase efficiency & power, and they’re finally becoming avaialble at a reasonable price for cars (Ronn Motors even introduced a new exotic sports car, the Scorpion, that does 200mph & 40mpg). Taking this concept & applying it to home use, powered by PV solar, seems like a logical application. So what if the predicted efficiency is off (such an error wouldn’t earn much of a grade at MIT, by the way)…with “free” solar energy you either run it longer & store it, or build a larger system.

    What seems like more of a limiting factor would be the impact this would have on scarce water supplies in certain areas, eg SoCal, AZ, etc, which is getting worse.

  • Raum

    Paul,

    Look into the MIT technology. What they claim is to be able to separate the H from O with a lot less effort, then just use the H to run the fuel cell. Don’t use the traditional calculation for this claim.

    My concern is that the study keeps referring to the amount of Oxygen they are separating out of the water instead of the Hydrogen. The reason this concerns me is because they dissolve potassium phosphate in the water.

    The abundance of Oxygen they get, which they want us to assume the Hydrogen is also coming out in correct proportion, may be coming from the PO4 reacting with the cobalt. Monopotassium phosphate (KH2PO4)

    If that’s the case, their process will not yield as much Hydrogen as they wish. Since this is where the energy will come from, I want to see quantities of Hydrogen for this study before I deem it a success.

  • Raum

    Paul,

    Look into the MIT technology. What they claim is to be able to separate the H from O with a lot less effort, then just use the H to run the fuel cell. Don’t use the traditional calculation for this claim.

    My concern is that the study keeps referring to the amount of Oxygen they are separating out of the water instead of the Hydrogen. The reason this concerns me is because they dissolve potassium phosphate in the water.

    The abundance of Oxygen they get, which they want us to assume the Hydrogen is also coming out in correct proportion, may be coming from the PO4 reacting with the cobalt. Monopotassium phosphate (KH2PO4)

    If that’s the case, their process will not yield as much Hydrogen as they wish. Since this is where the energy will come from, I want to see quantities of Hydrogen for this study before I deem it a success.

  • Mr. Sinister

    Paul … I’m fairly certain that Mr. Nocera didn’t achieve the position that he has by being stupid. I think the point he’s making is that the electrolyzer will provide a local, affordable source of hydrogen, which could then be used as input to a fuel-cell providing power to the house. That same hydrogen supply could also be used as input to a fuel-cell vehicle. An efficient, on-site production method solves several of the challenges of a hydrogen economy.

    Yes, you could use the power from the solar array directly, without converting to hydrogen though the electrolyzer … so long as you only need power while the sun is shining. Storing energy in the form of hydrogen would be more cost effective than equivalent chemical storage in batteries.

    I’m sure Mr. Nocera is a fine scientist, but he tends to be a bit ‘pie-in-the-sky’ with his comments. Even if this electrolyzer does all that he says it can do, there are a lot of pieces to this puzzle that still aren’t there. Affordable (and reliable) fuel-cells that can power an entire house, affordable fuel-cell vehicles, affordable hydrogen storage … note the key word “affordable”. Keep at it, Mr. Nocera, but there’s still a long way to go.

  • Mr. Sinister

    Paul … I’m fairly certain that Mr. Nocera didn’t achieve the position that he has by being stupid. I think the point he’s making is that the electrolyzer will provide a local, affordable source of hydrogen, which could then be used as input to a fuel-cell providing power to the house. That same hydrogen supply could also be used as input to a fuel-cell vehicle. An efficient, on-site production method solves several of the challenges of a hydrogen economy.

    Yes, you could use the power from the solar array directly, without converting to hydrogen though the electrolyzer … so long as you only need power while the sun is shining. Storing energy in the form of hydrogen would be more cost effective than equivalent chemical storage in batteries.

    I’m sure Mr. Nocera is a fine scientist, but he tends to be a bit ‘pie-in-the-sky’ with his comments. Even if this electrolyzer does all that he says it can do, there are a lot of pieces to this puzzle that still aren’t there. Affordable (and reliable) fuel-cells that can power an entire house, affordable fuel-cell vehicles, affordable hydrogen storage … note the key word “affordable”. Keep at it, Mr. Nocera, but there’s still a long way to go.

  • Paul

    Headline should read “MIT boffin looking for more research grants but can’t add”

    Why the hell would you want a fuel cell between a solar panel and your car? It actually requires 4x as much energy to generate a kw/hr worth of hydrogen that it does just to charge an EV battery. Or is he talking about using hydrogen as a fuel to replace gasoline in an ICE, even dumber idea… an ICE on gasoline will always be only 15% energy efficient at the wheels in a car. Running it on hydrogen doesn’t improve that.

    This guy can’t add!

  • Paul

    Headline should read “MIT boffin looking for more research grants but can’t add”

    Why the hell would you want a fuel cell between a solar panel and your car? It actually requires 4x as much energy to generate a kw/hr worth of hydrogen that it does just to charge an EV battery. Or is he talking about using hydrogen as a fuel to replace gasoline in an ICE, even dumber idea… an ICE on gasoline will always be only 15% energy efficient at the wheels in a car. Running it on hydrogen doesn’t improve that.

    This guy can’t add!

    • jake

      your mistaken- for thousands of years humans have known how to utilize the immense power in simple and small amounts of substances.

      Just because someone is finally publishing the results of a feasible invention dosn’t make bad math. Tesla invented wireless electricity a hundred years ago- 4000 years ago in egypt-isreal-iraq (Sumeria) they were using fruit juice powered batteries through metal /chemical reactions.

      wake up and smell the technology my friend.

  • Ravi Soparkar

    It is simply amazing if we can generate power for each home independantly. Decentralization has definate advantage and better efficiency too.

    I would be obliged to know more on this down to earth but still high tech technology. Kindly keep me updated. Ravi Soparkar Pune, India renewableenergy at in dot com

  • Ravi Soparkar

    It is simply amazing if we can generate power for each home independantly. Decentralization has definate advantage and better efficiency too.

    I would be obliged to know more on this down to earth but still high tech technology. Kindly keep me updated. Ravi Soparkar Pune, India renewableenergy at in dot com

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