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Solar Power Storage Enabled by Dirty Water

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Sun Catalytix, a company founded by MIT professor Daniel Nocera, is working on a new, cheap solar power system that converts solar energy to hydrogen. The system should be on the market in a year and a half, and costs just $20.

India’s Tata Group has invested about $10 million in the company, seeing it as a low-cost power provider for poor families in India and elsewhere.

Daniel Nocera

Solar power systems work well during the day, but it is usually very expensive to store the energy to use at night in batteries. This is where Nocera had an insight. Inspired by photosynthesis, Nocera and a post-doctoral student determined that they could use solar energy to split water into hydrogen and oxygen, storing the hydrogen in a fuel cell for use during the night. Any type of water can be used–even waste water. “We have the capability to power a household with just two bottles of water from any source,” Nocera has said.

When we wrote about his efforts in 2009, we said Nocera was after “the Holy Grail.” Now the professor seems confident that he’s found it.

The Tata Group’s investment is a significant vote of confidence (and some sources seem to think the size of the investment is much higher). Tata has a joint venture with BP that made it the largest manufacturer of solar panels in India, leading CleanTechnica to speculate that with the help of a soft loan mechanism, Tata could bring the new technology to millions of rural families throughout the country.

[Top image: Flickr user elvissa]

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