Their technology opens the door to homeowners and energy companies being able to easily store and reuse solar and wind power. Such energy is clean and renewable, but it's available only when the sun is shining or the wind is blowing.
"This breakthrough offers a relatively cheaper method of storing and reusing electricity produced by wind turbines and solar panels," says Curtis Berlinguette, associate professor of chemistry and Canada Research Chair in Energy Conversion.
The pair have patented their technology and created from their university research a spin-off company, FireWater Fuel Corp., to commercialize their electrocatalysts for use in electrolyzers.
Electrolyzer devices use catalysts to drive a chemical reaction that converts electricity into chemical energy by splitting water into hydrogen and oxygen fuels. These fuels can then be stored and re-converted to electricity for use whenever wanted.
The only byproduct from such a 'green' energy system is water, which can be recycled through the system. To store and provide renewable power to a typical house would require an electrolyzer about the size of a beer fridge, containing a few litres of water and converting hydrogen to electricity with virtually no emissions, the researchers say.
Instead, Berlinguette and Trudel turned to simpler production methods for catalysts. This involved using abundant metal compounds or oxides (including iron oxide or 'rust') to create mixed metal oxide catalysts having a disordered or amorphous, structure.
FireWater Fuel Corp. expects to have a commercial product in the current large-scale electrolyzer market in 2014, and a prototype electrolyzer -- using their new catalysts -- ready by 2015 for testing in a home.
- R. D. L. Smith, M. S. Prevot, R. D. Fagan, Z. Zhang, P. A. Sedach, M. K. J. Siu, S. Trudel, C. P. Berlinguette. Photochemical Route for Accessing Amorphous Metal Oxide Materials for Water Oxidation Catalysis. Science, 2013; DOI: 10.1126/science.1233638
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