Published on November 23rd, 2009 | by Susan Kraemer2
Polaris, ARPA-E Pump Money Into Nocera's Breakthrough in Biomimic Photosynthesis
November 23rd, 2009 by Susan Kraemer
Daniel Nocera’s Sun Catalytix was one of the 37 ARPA-E awardees last month with a $4.1 million vote of confidence from the Nobel prizewinner-driven Department of Energy. Now Polaris Venture Partners has just added $1 million to its earlier $2 million investment in the MIT spin-off to bring their total investment to $3 million.
Nocera’s work first burst on the world in 2007 with his work in figuring out how to ape the process of photosynthesis to create cheap solar energy stored as fuel. Nocera’s research, which was published last year in Science has been called the most important single solar energy discovery of the century.
According to MIT, the catalyst consists of an electrode placed in water containing cobalt and phosphate. MIT explains that when electricity from any source enters the electrode, the cobalt and phosphate create a film over the electrode, forming a catalyst that separates oxygen gas from the water and leaves behind hydrogen molecules. Then a platinum catalyst is used to convert the hydrogen molecules into hydrogen gas, which could power fuel cells and further efforts to lower global dependence on petroleum-based fuels. The vision is to use sunlight to enable these chemical reactions, creating a new way to tap solar power for energy.
Ultimately the plan is to integrate the technology with solar panels or wind turbines to store energy in liquid or gas fuels which are more energy-dense than the batteries traditionally used for energy storage. Nocera envisions a future of distributed energy, in which homeowners would use his method to split their own water into hydrogen at home. Their solar panels would power the house by day and the stored hydrogen would take over to make electricity at night with a fuel cell.
The Sun Catalytix electrolyzer breakthrough is that it is being designed to be made with cheap materials. It has been shown to work using even dirty river or even salt water, making it a technology available even in increasingly water-constrained regions. There are limits though: they also tried antifreeze instead of dirty water from the Charles River in Boston…that didn’t work.
Much work lies ahead, including finding a metal cheaper than the platinum to convert hydrogen molecules into hydrogen gas.
Image: Sun Catalytix