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Tuesday, 21 June 2011

Stanford team devises a better solar-powered water splitter

Stanford University School of Engineering
June 20, 2011

The process of splitting water into pure oxygen and clean-burning hydrogen fuel has long been the Holy Grail for clean-energy advocates as a method of large-scale energy storage, but the idea faces technical challenges. Stanford researchers may have solved one of the most important ones.

Solar energy is fine when the sun is shining. But what about at night or when it is cloudy? To be truly useful, sunshine must be converted to a form of energy that can be stored for use when the sun is hiding.

The notion of using sunshine to split water into oxygen and storable hydrogen fuel has been championed by clean-energy advocates for decades, but stubborn challenges have prevented adoption of an otherwise promising technology.

A team of Stanford researchers may have solved one of the most vexing scientific details blocking us from such a clean-energy future.

The team, led by materials science engineer Paul McIntyre and chemist Christopher Chidsey, has devised a robust silicon-based solar electrode that shows remarkable endurance in the highly corrosive environment inherent in the process of splitting water.

They revealed their progress in a recent paper published in the journal Nature Materials.

Conceptually, splitting water could not be simpler. Scientists have long known that applying a voltage across two electrodes submerged in water splits the water molecules into their component elements, oxygen and hydrogen.
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