The tricky problem of how to store wind and solar energy and re-use it at a later time, may be a step closer to a practical solution. This may make it possible for homeowners and energy companies to store and re-use or sell renewable energy, and not rely on it only being available when the wind is blowing or the sun is shining.
Research by Curtis Berlinguette (right) and Simon Trudel (left) , both in the chemistry department in the Faculty of Science of Calgary University, has just been published in the journal Science.
"This breakthrough offers a relatively cheaper method of storing and reusing electricity produced by wind turbines and solar panels," says Curtis Berlinguette ."Our work represents a critical step for realizing a large-scale, clean energy economy,"
Simon Trudel, assistant professor of chemistry said that this "opens up a whole new field of how to make catalytic materials. We now have a large new arena for discovery."
They have developed 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. There is a by-product, but that's only water, which can be re-cycled through the system, making this a totally green energy storage solution. A typical house would need an electrolyzer the size of a mini-fridge to convert the hydrogen fuel into electricity.
The catalysts to be used are not the usual rare and expensive toxic metals in a crystalline structure but common metal compounds or oxides, such as iron oxide (rust). Their converter performs just as well as conventional toxic metals, but at a fraction of the cost: about 0.1% of the cost!
Their research was supported by Calgary University's Institute for Sustainable Energy, Environment and Economy, Alberta Innovates, Mitacs and FireWater Fuel Corp.
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.