MIT's Nocera. Credit: Christopher Harting

MIT's Nocera. Credit: Christopher Harting

Back in August, we noted the work Daniel Nocera a professor of chemistry at MIT, who is leading has developed an unprecedented electrolysis process that uses the sun’s energy to split water molecules into oxygen and hydrogen gases. The gases can then be stored and later run through a fuel cell to produce electricity as needed. We noted then:

The key to the process is a newly developed catalyst that produces oxygen gas from water. Inexpensive and easy to make, the catalyst consists of cobalt metal, phosphate and an anode, placed in water. When electricity – from a photovoltaic cell or any electrical source – is run through the catalyst, the cobalt and phosphate form a thin film on the electrode’s surface, creating oxygen gas.

Also back then, Science magazine noted, after talking with Nocera, that the qualitative leap would come when the process was independent of water quality:

A final big push will be to see if the catalyst or others like it can operate in seawater. If so, future societies could use sunlight to generate hydrogen from seawater and then pipe it to large banks of fuel cells on shore that could convert it into electricity and fresh water, thereby using the sun and oceans to fill two of the world’s greatest needs.

Apparently, like us, a lot of people are tracking Nocera’s progress. In front of what was reported to be a “packed house” at the AAAS confab, Nocera told the audience that his system now works with both sea water and “dirty” water, and that the catalyst his group is working with is relatively self-healing. An article explaining the details of these developments is supposed to be published in a week or two. Stay tuned.