Tuesday, March 29, 2011

"Artificial Leaf" Hype

Scientists today claimed one of the milestones in the drive for sustainable energy — development of the first practical artificial leaf. Speaking here at the 241st National Meeting of the American Chemical Society, they described an advanced solar cell the size of a poker card that mimics the process, called photosynthesis, that green plants use to convert sunlight and water into energy. _ACS
The problem with this announcement at the 241st ACS national meet is that the basic technology is decades old. An MIT scientist, Daniel Nocera, has apparently devised a new mix of catalysts -- including nickel and cobalt -- to facilitate the photonic separation of H2 and O2 from water. The device has run continuously for 45 hours without loss of output. Great things are expected...yada, yada, yada....
Placed in a single gallon of water in a bright sunlight, the device could produce enough electricity to supply a house in a developing country with electricity for a day, Nocera said. It does so by splitting water into its two components, hydrogen and oxygen.

The hydrogen and oxygen gases would be stored in a fuel cell, which uses those two materials to produce electricity, located either on top of the house or beside it. _ACS
Nocera suggests that his device might allow third world villages in Africa etc. to produce their own electricity. And yet the requirement for fuel cells -- still exorbitantly expensive -- will prevent all but the wealthiest villages from even thinking about taking that approach. How fortunate that Case Western Reserve researchers are using nano-tubes to reduce the cost of fuel cells by perhaps a factor of half.

It will be nice to achieve the cheap photonic splitting of water -- and further, the cheap splitting of CO2. Nature achieves both as starting points and no one issues a press release or makes announcements at national meetings.

When we finally do get cheap sources of H2, it is likely that we will use it in industrial processes, for the production of chemicals and fuels to substitute for petroleum and other fossil hydrocarbons. The "hydrogen economy" jive is another source of endless hype that has been oversold since at least the 1960s.

If Nocera and his academic kin truly wish to help the villagers of the third world, the best place to start would be in providing them ways to live more independently of bloody tyrants and dictators, and give them more property rights to their personal production. A permanent "smart drug" like NZT -- except longer lasting -- would also help the third world enormously, given the clear regional discrepancies in measured intelligence and intellectual achievement.

Labels: , , ,


Post a Comment

Subscribe to Post Comments [Atom]

<< Home

Newer Posts Older Posts