energy breakthrough? MIT's artificial leaf

Discussion in 'Community Discussion' started by Don't panic, Mar 29, 2011.

  1. Don't panic, Mar 29, 2011
    Last edited: Mar 29, 2011

    Don't panic macrumors 603

    Don't panic

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    #1
    http://www.wired.co.uk/news/archive/2011-03/28/artificial-leaf
    this could be huge

    it doesn't even need clean water

    http://www.livemint.com/2011/03/23001656/Tata-signs-up-MIT-energy-guru.html
     
  2. Plymouthbreezer macrumors 601

    Plymouthbreezer

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    #2
    Yeah, this is pretty big news; I know a person working on it, and they [the team members] are pumped.

    It's times like this I'm glad MIT is visible from my bedroom window. :)
     
  3. Don't panic thread starter macrumors 603

    Don't panic

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    #3
    i know people at the ACS, and they made quite the buzz there. :)

    let's hope it is as good as it looks.
     
  4. Pink∆Floyd macrumors 68020

    Pink∆Floyd

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  5. iJohnHenry macrumors P6

    iJohnHenry

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    #5
    Happily, it's not Friday yet.

    Wonder if team members might suddenly start passing-away, at an alarming rate?

    :rolleyes:
     
  6. steadysignal macrumors 6502a

    steadysignal

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    #6
    that would $uck...

    meh?

    :)
     
  7. mscriv macrumors 601

    mscriv

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    #7
    Wow, that's interesting. It sure sounds like there's a lot of promise for this technology.
     
  8. Lord Blackadder macrumors G5

    Lord Blackadder

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    #8
    So many of our greatest discoveries revolve around finding out how to imitate nature...and no wonder I suppose.

    A cheap, effective way to obtain hydrogen and oxygen is the holy grail of renewable energy research. We can only hope this team is really on to something.
     
  9. Don't panic thread starter macrumors 603

    Don't panic

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    #9
    :confused: what am I missing?
     
  10. Lord Blackadder macrumors G5

    Lord Blackadder

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    #10
    I'm merely guessing, but I suspect he's referring to paranoid notions that developers of renewable energy technology are targeted by some sort of global conspiracy bent on keeping us dependant on oil, coal and gas.
     
  11. iJohnHenry macrumors P6

    iJohnHenry

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    #12
    You bet I am.

    The economic models of the past would be shattered if this proves out.

    And don't think for a moment think that the 'powers that be' would not hesitate to target even M.I.T. researchers.
     
  12. Don't panic thread starter macrumors 603

    Don't panic

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    #13
    here some more info on it
    it's a commentary from science magazine, and the actual peer-review article will come out soon.
    the process is being patented and licensed to Tata industries, who have pretty solid shoulders.
    if this is true, it's not going away.
    it's not some shmuck with a mysterious perpetual motion machine.
    These are serious scientists.

    i think a key aspects is if it can use seawater
     
  13. darkplanets macrumors 6502a

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    #14
    This, though exciting, is just a stepping stone.

    We would still be tied to burning fuels per say, that is through a fuel cell. It's not ideal IMO, though a good start. In the end it would be better to have an integrated approach to energy production.

    Furthermore, I haven't read the article yet, but stability of the "leaf" is paramount.... 45 hours isn't enough, unless you're constantly going to be feeding your pool these leaves. This also raises another two issues: cost of manufacturing and the energy involved to produce these, and the ever increasing rarity of water. The latter can be solved via desalination plants (which require electricity), the former is actually a large issue. If it takes more energy to produce these than the final output from the fuel cell, then it's rather useless. Good starting point though.
     
  14. Don't panic, Mar 30, 2011
    Last edited: Mar 30, 2011

    Don't panic thread starter macrumors 603

    Don't panic

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    #15
    you make good points, but i think part of the excitement about this specific "artificial leaf" (compared to previous ones) is that it addresses those very points.

    - it's cheap to produce
    - it's scalable
    - it's stable: apparently it can go on for days on end using unpurified water.

    and water scarcity shouldn't be a major issue, because the net result of the process is pretty much neutral: it uses water and sunlight to generate hydrogen and oxygen (thus storing chemical energy), and then it burns the hydrogen and oxygen to regenerate water (plus energy).

    with the added value that you can put 'dirty' water in, and you get distilled water out.

    as i mentioned before, a key part will be if they can make it work directly with seawater
    or if it can generate enough power to desalt sea water and still have a net energy production.

    if it does work with seawater, you could envisage a desalination plant that actually produces both clean water and energy (!!!)
     
  15. darkplanets macrumors 6502a

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    #16
    But this is all dependent upon a few things that aren't very good right now...

    1) Optical efficiency -- I highly doubt this thing is going to top a 10% efficiency, however I need to look at its design first

    2) Fuel cell efficiency -- Also piss poor. Fuel cells still are not what they should be, at least on a cost/kw with reasonable operating temperatures and conditions.

    Those two things notwithstanding, there's still the energy equation to consider-- does more energy go into producing this than the energy gained from it? Because 1 and 2 are so inefficient, more than likely yes. Especially if he's targeting developing countries... high efficiency usually means high cost (look at good solar cells for example). Also, stability of the system does not mean stability of the chip or its catalytic properties.

    Until I see further scientific evidence either from reviews or commercial research, I'm not holding my breath as this being a miracle solution. More than likely it's probably over-hyped a bit, as all scientists tend to do (just search for the occurrence of "Novel" in your favorite journal). Hopefully this doesn't turn out to be another fusion bubble, cold fusion, or iPS cell incident where academic dishonesty is at it's finest.

    As per the neutrality... nothing is neutral, ever. Inefficiencies will always exist, and as such, you cannot run in a natural loop. You will need water input guaranteed -- the question is how much.
     
  16. Mousse, Mar 30, 2011
    Last edited: Mar 30, 2011

    Mousse macrumors 68000

    Mousse

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    #17
    So, in short, a viable car that runs on water is still only a pipe dream, right? I had hope to see one in my lifetime. This one is only useful for short commutes and one passenger, hardly viable in my book.
     
  17. Don't panic thread starter macrumors 603

    Don't panic

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    #18
    dark,
    again, i think you raise legitimate concerns.
    i certainly don't think this is the end-product as well, and the efficiency is right now fairly low (5.5% from interviews), but until the actual paper (or even better, product) comes out it is hard to have a better idea.

    but the emphasis has all been on the fact that it's cheap, scalable and stable, so i think they have the real-world issues well in mind.
    Similar devices that are much more efficient already exist, but they are just not practical at all for durability/cost issues. if they have a product that can be cheaply produced in various sized, and can generate energy consistently using non-drinking water, it means that you can delocalize the energy generation to just about anywhere, greatly reducing the cost of distribution.

    If you can put on a roof a robust solar panel based on this technology (talking about 'leaves' is a bit inappropriate) that directly converts solar energy into H2 and stores it in underground tanks to be used as fuel, you have made a huge step towards energy independence.

    yes, you still need energy to produce the device, but the net result would still be a net reduction in the cost (in terms of energy) of energy itself, the difference coming from the sun.
     
  18. Lord Blackadder macrumors G5

    Lord Blackadder

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    #19
    The biggest hurdle in this case is with the fuel cells. Energy generation is pretty straightforward, and we've found a lot of renewable ways to do that.

    The real trick is finding a cheap and practical way to store energy. So far we haven't found any means to store energy in a way that is more efficient and practical than a dammed lake, barrel of oil or a bushel of coal. Batteries and fuel cells are orders of magnitude more expensive and less efficient/reliable.

    Still, the artificial leaf idea is extremely exciting, and has huge potential.
     
  19. darkplanets macrumors 6502a

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    #20
    Quite true.

    I agree with you here.

    I kind of disagree with you here, at least in the context of my previous comments. I worry that the cost of mining materials + manufacturing + transport outweigh the overall net energy produced by the fuel cell per leaf (since this is the final output). If we have a net loss of energy (quite possible with these efficiencies), wouldn't it be more practical to pursue other methods until efficiencies increase?
     
  20. Don't panic, Apr 1, 2011
    Last edited: Apr 1, 2011

    Don't panic thread starter macrumors 603

    Don't panic

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    #21
    i see what you mean.
    i can't really answer either way, because obviously i don't know those parameters.
    but the same issues are at work with any technologies, even the current ones, and than you have to factor in the cost of delivering the energy source to the usage location.
    with this kind of approach, once the technology in place, the energy is generated locally from sunlight. this might make it worth it even if there were cheaper technologies around, especially considering that efficiency would probably improve with tech development.

    Also there might be a distinction from the initial cost (in energy) and subsequent costs once the tech is developed, because the energy needed to produce could be provided at least in part by the very same technology (i know it's a bit convoluted :))

    that said, Nocera's technology is still a fair distance from deployment, but it's a pretty big step in the right direction, IMO (and is legit, no snake oil miracles at work).

    here one of the significant improvements over current solar panel technology is the elimination of the 'middle man' between the solar cells and the usage of the energy to generate hydrogen or to connect to the grid. here it directly sunlight ->hydrogen which in many applications/contexts can be a huge advantage
     
  21. Young Spade macrumors 68020

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    #22
    I saw this posted the other day, saved it and showed my Bio 2 teacher for kicks. I'm pretty damn excited, I would love to have these in my home and use them to power things liek the TV and stuff.
     
  22. darkplanets macrumors 6502a

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    #23
    I agree with you fully, I just don't think people should be riding on this for some time to come. Honestly the real challenge and push should be to make the simplest, most efficient energy system.

    Going from sunlight ->(hydrolysis)-> H2 -> Fuel Cell -> Electricity isn't nearly as nice as sunlight -> electricity, but as you pointed out can be useful in certain situations. It would be a good stop gap until solar cells and batteries catch up, however the 5% efficiency doesn't exactly make this ideal for any situation.

    In the former system you're introducing large factors of reduction for potential energy output through limitations and efficiency, in the latter system you can potentially maximize your output. Energy storage aside, the latter system will be the future in the end, at least in terms of solar based power.
     

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