Even though president Trump has imposed tariffs on solar imports from China (both on solar cells and on solar components), Chinese scientists and American scientists have recently made an impressive breakthrough in solar energy storage technology.
As per ZME Science, the team of scientists has discovered a dual-atom catalyst that is able to act as a platform for — hold on tight – #artificial photosynthesis. It may sound strange, but photosynthesis is how plants manage to store solar energy and use it every night. So let’s take a closer look at this new and interesting solar energy storage mechanism.
Plants: Perhaps They Are More Intelligent Than We Think
Solar energy is currently one of the best energy sources on the planet. It is virtually everywhere and it is there for the taking. Solar energy is cheap, clean and renewable. It does not pollute our oceans, make our air toxic, or fill our Earth with radioactive waste. So, why can’t humans can’t harness the full power of solar energy? Are plants really smarter than us? After all, plants manage to capture solar energy, convert it into chemical energy, and then convert it back into usable energy when it is needed. Over billions of years, plants have developed the perfect mechanism to produce and store solar energy: photosynthesis. The problem is that humans can’t photosynthesize solar energy.
Even though, at the present time, solar energy is relatively cheap and we are quite efficient at producing it, there is still one big problem that hasn’t been solved entirely: storing solar energy. The fact that we can produce large amounts of green, solar energy during the daytime (and only when there are adequate conditions) doesn’t mean much if we can’t store it. This is why scientists from the US-Chinese team have been working hard to achieve this goal: to be able to store solar energy and distribute it to where it is needed even during the night or when the weather is cloudy.
Artificial Photosynthesis: An Innovative Solar Solution
Plants convert sunlight – using quite complex mechanisms – to various types of chemical energy. Plants can then release this chemical energy when it is needed as fuel. This is exactly what scientists are trying to do: store solar energy in a way that makes it possible for it to be used at a later time. Consequently, the innovative solar energy storage procedure was dubbed artificial photosynthesis.
On the word of Dunwei Wang, who is an associate professor at Boston College, the team researched technology that can help humans store solar energy. According to Dunwei, the new technology manages to fix the problem posed by intermittent solar energy generation. It harvests the energy from solar sources and then creates chemical bonds which store said energy. And it looks like the cost of the entire process is relatively low and the efficiency is very good.
The dual-atom catalyst developed by the team is perfect for the scope. A catalyst is merely a substance that helps a chemical reaction to occur without being involved in the caused reaction. The new solar power storage technology is not complex at all either. All it uses is solar energy (of course, generated by solar cells), carbon dioxide and water. The technology manages to store the energy when needed and then release it to be sent to consumers.
Up to date, most teams of scientists were researching catalysts made out of a single atom. Wang and the other researchers managed to obtain an iridium heterogeneous catalyst that is composed of two atoms. The methods involved in obtaining the catalyst were not very complex and they were relatively cheap, consistent with the team. The new catalyst used for solar energy storage was very active at oxidizing water and also displayed strong stability in the process. Water oxidation is a very important part of the photosynthesis process – both artificial and natural.
There is strong proof that the new catalyst can be successfully used for artificial photosynthesis; in other words, for solar energy storage purposes. The performance, as well as the structure of the new dual-atom catalyst has been intensively analyzed and then confirmed using the Advanced Light Source at Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory. In fact, the Advanced Light Source not only confirmed the results, but also managed to show that the results are impressive. The performance (both simplicity and the high durability) of the new catalyst impressed even Dunwei Wang. The extreme effectiveness of the new catalyst in the water oxidation process is remarkable, according to Wang.
In line with the team, we are only getting a glimpse of what this type of catalyst can achieve. We are only seeing a small part of the outstanding boost these catalysts can give to the solar energy storage industry. The innovation is certainly a huge leap forward for the solar industry – for the entire renewable energy industry, in fact.
Wang stated that researchers have always asked themselves what is the smallest active catalyst that is also the most durable for the process of oxidizing water. “Previously, researchers have asked this question and found the answer only in homogeneous catalysts, whose durability was poor.” Now, Wang mentions that we, for the first time, have a preview of the potential of heterogeneous catalysts in terms of clean energy storage and production.
Time to Make A Solar Impact
This new technology that uses a catalyst to boost artificial photosynthesis is very good news when it comes to solar. But why wasn’t this discovered earlier? We have known for decades that plants are able to convert sunlight into solar energy and then store it. We also have known that plants are extremely efficient at achieving this. Why did mankind not try to analyze a plant’s method of producing and storing solar energy? Our problem is that we have always looked for fossil fuels to power our cars, our cities, and our industry. We never really took enough time to consider other sources of energy. Ever since its inception, the solar industry has been growing at a steady pace. Solar energy is cheap to produce and is already used to power millions of homes all over the world.
This latest advancement in solar energy storage using photosynthesis and catalysts shows us that there is a lot of potential. Even if we were late to the party, we may still be able to learn a thing or two plants! Follow solar news to stay current with the latest discoveries.