A new study from MIT, reported in this weeks issue of Science, describes a more efficient method of using solar energy to split water molecules into hydrogen and oxygen and recombine them in a fuel cell to generate electricity. One of the breakthroughs of this new electrolyzer process is that it works on water at ambient temperatures and pressures. [right: Daniel G. Nocera, the Henry Dreyfus Professor of Energy at MIT, has developed a simple method to split water molecules and produce oxygen gas, a discovery that paves the way for large-scale use of solar power. Credit, MIT]
The other intriguing aspect is that it can work with saline water, with the waste product of the electricity from the fuel cell being pure water. Thus, the process might be a useful way to salinate water. The authors expect to resolve issues in the next few months about use of expensive platinum in the process.
For the past few decades there are near-regular announcements of some breakthrough technology that promises to solve our energy problems. It will be interesting to see if this one can be translated into commercial success.