H2O to ‘energize’ homes

Beth Spain

Wind turbines, hydroelectricity, biofuels, nuclear energy, ocean current energy and geothermal energy — pathways to solving the energy crisis seem endless. However, what if one process of converting energy could solve the problem and make “pure water”?

Daniel Nocera, founder of Sun Catalytix, and Henry Dreyfus, professor of energy and professor of chemistry at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, have discovered a way to harvest energy by splitting and recombining water molecules and have made it practical for homeowners to use.

During the National American Chemical Society convention in San Francisco, Nocera explained his findings and how it will revolutionize the world’s energy problems. After a plant breaks up water to make sugar, he said it uses sunlight to rearrange oxygen and hydrogen from low-energy bonds to high-energy bonds. However, energy storage takes place at the front-end of photosynthesis.

Likewise, artificial photosynthesis uses sunlight and catalysts to burn water and rearrange the chemical bonds to allow energy storage.

“The bottom line is I’m talking about solving the world’s energy problem with an Olympic-sized pool of water,” Nocera said in a                     video lecture.

Solar panels mounted on a rooftop draw light into a plastic electrolyzer, then hydrogen and oxygen are stored in separate, inexpensive canisters, a few liters of water and a fuel cell — a device changing chemical energy into electrical energy — are used to complete the process.

“We’re talking about radical change,” said Dr. Charles Baldwin, O.P. and Evalyn Hammons university professor of pre-medical studies. “Pay-off is huge, risks are great.”

Among the science community, Baldwin said Nocera is viewed by some as a visionary — or a dreamer.

“The problem is other scientists see him requiring too much change in order to produce potential energy,” Baldwin said.

Baldwin said this radical idea of personalized energy would complicate taxing energy and would likely receive opposition from the government. If this plan was to take effect, the initial loss of jobs among power companies would be significant, but Baldwin said jobs would be created to service personal units.

Nocera’s plans are not only scientific, but social, Baldwin said. Recombining the hydrogen and oxygen atoms creates “pure water.” By establishing these personalized energy units in non-legacy countries, such as remote parts of South Africa and Iraq, polluted water could be purified while converting energy.

“This holds the potential to solving global energy and water problems,” Baldwin said. “But it may never see the light of day because of people who don’t believe and are not willing to take the risk for the poor people.”

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