Using a surprisingly simple, inexpensive technique, chemists have found a way to pull pure oxygen from water using relatively small amounts of electricity, common chemicals and a room-temperature glass of water.
Because oxygen and hydrogen are energy-rich fuels, many researchers have proposed using solar electricity to split water into those elements--a stored energy source for when the sun goes down. One of the chief obstacles to that green-energy scenario has been the difficulty of producing oxygen without large amounts of energy or a high-maintenance environment.
Now, Massachusetts Institute of Technology chemist Daniel Nocera and his postdoctoral student Matthew Kanan have discovered an efficient way to solve the oxygen problem. They announced their findings July 31, 2008, online in the journal Science.
"The discovery has enormous implications for the large scale deployment of solar since it puts us on the doorstep of a cheap and easily manufactured storage mechanism," said Nocera. "The ease of implementation means that this discovery will have legs. I have great faith in my chemistry, materials science and engineering colleagues in the community to drive this discovery hard and hopefully their work, along with our continued studies will yield viable technologies within 10 years."
While a home-based energy source using this technique could be a decade away, the breakthrough is a major step forward.
"This study demonstrates how research is critical for driving American competitiveness in the global energy marketplace. By funding fundamental research in water and renewable energy, we are investing in both our economic and environmental futures," said Arden L. Bement, Jr., director of the National Science Foundation (NSF).
To produce oxygen, Nocera and Kanan added cobalt and phosphates to neutral water and then inserted a conductive-glass electrode. As soon as the researchers applied a current, a da
|Contact: Josh Chamot|
National Science Foundation