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Solar when the sun goes down

solar panel warholWhat’s your favourite phrase?  I love Blackadder’s: “As cunning as a fox that’s just been appointed professor of cunning at Oxford University.” But I also love the updated chocolate fireguard: “It’s as useless as a solar panel at night.”

Now, a group of MIT researchers have ruined this last statement.  They say they have discovered a way to use solar energy cheaply even after the sun goes down. The spoilsports.

That said, the discovery could turn solar into a mainstream power source within 10 years.

A paper published in this week’s Science highlights that it there is a simple, inexpensive process for storing solar energy. It’s the hydrogen battery again.

The team is fronted by Daniel Nocera, the Henry Dreyfus professor of energy and professor of chemistry at MIT.  Quoted in the Boston Globe, Nocera stated:

“How the heck are you going to build an economy or a business only if the sun is shining? What you really need to do is when the sun is shining, figure out how to store some of that energy so you can unleash it when the sun isn’t shining.”

The storage technology is based on cobalt and phosphate, which are both readily available. The science seems simple enough.  Electricity from solar panels can be fed to the compound in water, this splits the water into hydrogen which can then be re-used.

Similar batteries are also being developed for wind power.

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