Tuesday, January 19, 2010

Solar Energy Storage

Today, I had the opportunity to be at the Faculty Hall where Professor Charles M. Vest, President of the US National Academy of Engineering, and President Emeritus of the hallowed Massachusetts Institute of Technology was delivering a talk titled "Engineering Education in 21st Century". Of the several germane issues touched upon during the lecture, Prof. Vest's mention of fourteen grand engineering challenges was of particular interest to me. One can take a look at the list here.

Being one with a soft corner for renewable energy, I found the first one - Make solar energy economical - to be of utmost importance. Addressing the problem of storing solar energy for times when the sun isn't in sight (nights and cloudy days), the article puts forth a very interesting idea based on mother nature's ways.

Another possible solution to the storage problem would mimic the biological capture of sunshine by photosynthesis in plants, which stores the sun’s energy in the chemical bonds of molecules that can be used as food. The plant’s way of using sunlight to produce food could be duplicated by people to produce fuel. For example, sunlight could power the electrolysis of water, generating hydrogen as a fuel. Hydrogen could then power fuel cells, electricity-generating devices that produce virtually no polluting byproducts, as the hydrogen combines with oxygen to produce water again. But splitting water efficiently will require advances in chemical reaction efficiencies, perhaps through engineering new catalysts. Nature’s catalysts, enzymes, can produce hydrogen from water with a much higher efficiency than current industrial catalysts. Developing catalysts that can match those found in living cells would dramatically enhance the attractiveness of a solar production-fuel cell storage system for a solar energy economy.

So here's a challenge for all chemical scientists and/or engineers to tackle. Anybody listening?

No comments:

Post a Comment