MIT professor Daniel Nocera formed a company earlier this year to commercialize a new technology that can “split water” and store solar energy. The company’s key objective now: achieve a solar energy breakthrough.
As Martin LaMonica of CNET News reports, Nocera and his team of MIT engineers are looking to make solar energy cheap and widespread, and not by incremental improvements in technology. The professor and entrepeneur says this can’t happen by shrinking larger scale energy systems. “What you need in my opinion is to start with a blank piece of paper and start inventing. Don’t take what’s there and try to reengineer it.” Easier said than done, but Nocera seems to be on his way.
The new company — Sun Catalytix — has hired the former CEO of the water desalination company Ionics (purchased by General Electric), to be its chairman.
Nocera says: “This technology is moving really fast. We’re already at the engineering prototype design. I’m hiring no scientists–I’m just having a massive engineering effort right now.”
Commercial “electrolyzers” already exist that can split water, but they are expensive. Nocera’s team is looking to create something very cheap that is made of PVC plastic.
In the end, Nocera wants to have a full system. “The idea is to use solar panels to power the electrolyzer to produce hydrogen which would be stored in tanks. When people need electricity, the stored hydrogen would put through a fuel cell.”
Creating a Technology for the Future
The biggest goal of Nocera’s team is to create something for the developing world as its energy needs increase. The benefit for the developed world is one positive aspect of the technology, but the developing world is where it is really supposed to shine.
LaMonica reports: “Nocera calculates that three liters of water a day could power a home, or a fuel cell car in the ‘legacy world,’ or rich countries with a high standard of living. In poor countries where people don’t use much energy, three liters would make a dramatic difference, providing power for several people.”
Is this new technology a solar energy breakthrough that will take us into a new, decentralized world of energy? Will it solve some of the growing energy problems of the developing world? We can only wait and see.
Image Credit: ecstaticist via flickr under a Creative Commons license