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Power Science Technology

UCLA Researchers Use Solar To Create and Store Hydrogen (phys.org) 61

UCLA researchers have designed a device that can use solar energy to inexpensively and efficiently create and store energy, which could be used to power electronic devices, and to create hydrogen fuel for eco-friendly cars. Phys.Org reports: The device could make hydrogen cars affordable for many more consumers because it produces hydrogen using nickel, iron and cobalt -- elements that are much more abundant and less expensive than the platinum and other precious metals that are currently used to produce hydrogen fuel. Traditional hydrogen fuel cells and supercapacitors have two electrodes: one positive and one negative. The device developed at UCLA has a third electrode that acts as both a supercapacitor, which stores energy, and as a device for splitting water into hydrogen and oxygen, a process called water electrolysis. All three electrodes connect to a single solar cell that serves as the device's power source, and the electrical energy harvested by the solar cell can be stored in one of two ways: electrochemically in the supercapacitor or chemically as hydrogen. The device also is a step forward because it produces hydrogen fuel in an environmentally friendly way. Currently, about 95 percent of hydrogen production worldwide comes from converting fossil fuels such as natural gas into hydrogen -- a process that releases large quantities of carbon dioxide into the air, said Maher El-Kady, a UCLA postdoctoral researcher and a co-author of the research. The technology is described in the journal Energy Storage Materials.
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UCLA Researchers Use Solar To Create and Store Hydrogen

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  • so... (Score:2, Insightful)

    by Anonymous Coward

    So it's a standard electrolysis but with a solar panel, and a switch to charge a super capacitor instead of performing electrolysis?

    • looks like the home science for kids PEM starter kit I got, presumably with a supercapacitor glued to the back - revolutionary !
      • Yeh, what would the leading energy scientists know that some random bozo on Slasdot doesnt. Sad.

        • Re: (Score:2, Insightful)

          by DCFusor ( 1763438 )
          They know how to bullshit for grant money, that's what they know. Doesn't matter the scheme is impractical and has been superseded long since.
      • looks like the home science for kids PEM starter kit I got, presumably with a supercapacitor glued to the back - revolutionary !

        And....? While I suspect that there are some interesting details, not every advance need be space shuttle level complicated.

        It only needs to work.

        I need more info than a press release though, as I am experiencing maximum interest.

    • Sometimes the exciting part of a discovery isn't that it does something we've never seen the like of previously, but that it does something that was previously very expensive to do quite inexpensively. I'm not saying that this is the case here, but it seems like you can't go more than a few months without hearing about some amazing new battery technology that you know we won't see anytime soon because it's prohibitively expensive to manufacture.
      • by Anonymous Coward
        ... and in the meantime, Tesla has designed a hypercar with a 200Kwh battery pack.
      • It is only interesting if the solar panel part of the equation is irrelevant. We already know that we can generate electricity with solar panels. If the leap forward is with solar panel efficiency then that just makes all uses of electricity more cost effective. It doesn't make the hydrogen process any more efficient relative to other uses of electricity.

        The only way to make the hydrogen process attractive relative to other more efficient systems using solar panels is for solar panels to become so cheap

        • by Rhipf ( 525263 )

          Yes solar panels generate electricity and have done so since they were first made. The problem is that they produce electricity at the whim of the weather not necessarily when the electricity is needed. If there is a more efficient way to store the unneeded excess electricity for times when demand exceeds the output of the panel then the relative efficiency of the panel increases (or maybe it is better to say the usefulness of the panel increases).

          Storing the excess electricity of the solar panels as hydrog

          • I don't disagree with anything you have said, but I am not sure how it relates to the article (press release). The point is that including solar panels into the analysis muddies the point of the analysis. If the press release stated that researchers found a more efficient method for isolating and storing hydrogen, then that would be interesting and would possibly make hydrogen more competitive. Any improvements on the solar panel side benefits all the competing energy storage methods as well.

            I don't know

          • In other words, a hydrogen battery.

            Although, I wonder why nobody is making hybrid hydrogen/electric car for those long trips? Go with long electrical only mileage like Tesla, but hydrogen is a backup for those times when you can't wait 30 minutes at a charging station, so you just fill up on hydrogen instead, which recharges your battery while you drive.

            At least, I think that should be the standard until battery technology advances to the point of making it no longer necessary, then you can remove the extra

    • Re: (Score:2, Insightful)

      by Baron_Yam ( 643147 )

      Not quite standard, in that they've made it with fairly common materials to reduce the cost... but they say nothing (in the pop science article) about the solar panel efficiency or the electrolysis efficiency, so I'm guessing it's average or worse. And they admit they have no solution to the problem of how to economically and efficiently store whatever hydrogen it produces.

      So overall, 'meh'. While building that device happens to be beyond my current personal abilities, it remains unimpressive.

      • Here is the abstract [sciencedirect.com] with a link to buy the paper. After reading the abstract, it still isn't clear to me what is "new" about this. If it is really just more inexpensive catalysts, then why include the "solar" angle, since that would irrelevant to the actual science? It would work just as well with electricity from any source.

        • then why include the "solar" angle

          Probably because it gets more attention. There are plenty of people who wouldn't care about it otherwise that might pay attention when "solar" enters the conversation. You see the same kind of thing in the tech world where all kinds of stuff gets rehashed, but now it's "on the internet" or has "augmented reality features" or whatever other buzzword helps it sell better.

        • The bright side (Score:5, Informative)

          by Okian Warrior ( 537106 ) on Tuesday November 21, 2017 @12:05AM (#55592537) Homepage Journal

          Hey, look at the bright side.

          From the OP, we now know that the process of splitting water is called "water electrolysis".

          That's the sort of information I come to Slashdot for!

          A brief scan of the abstract, note that it uses "oxygen evolution reaction" with the acronym "OER" instead of "produces oxygen", uses LDH without defining it ("Layered Double Hydroxide"), "dual functionalities ... have been achieved" instead of "dual functions", or just "functions as both <a> and <b>",

          Taking a sentence at random, and plugging it into an online analyzer results in:

          Indication of the number of years of formal education that a person requires in order to easily understand the text on the first reading: (Gunning Fog index) 18.90

          With a Flesch Reading Ease : 27.75

          That's a pretty high level of jargon, almost reaching the level of techno-babble.

          (The sentence: "When employed as the positive electrode in a supercapacitor, along with activated carbon as the negative electrode in an asymmetric configuration, the ultrathin and porous Ni-Co-Fe LDH nanoplatelets delivered an ultrahigh specific energy of 57.")

        • Because you want to have a portable device that acts a battery when there is no sun and is easy to refuel, aka with a few ounces of water.

        • Here is the abstract [sciencedirect.com] with a link to buy the paper. After reading the abstract, it still isn't clear to me what is "new" about this. If it is really just more inexpensive catalysts, then why include the "solar" angle, since that would irrelevant to the actual science? It would work just as well with electricity from any source.

          Thank you for the link to the abstract, Bill.

          Its both interesting and a little hybridish dual purposeish or maybe isn't, or something.

          I see the main feature the electrolysis using less expensive electrode materials. and assuming it works, a one step removed from practical applications. The solar angle is probably a marketing spin, although with cheap production, you could set up panels in the back yard to make hydrogen to heat the house, or produce fuel in sunny locations without much labor costs or

      • It doesn't store hydrogen, they seem to make the case that they can store the electrical energy and simply produce it on demand fast enough to use as a fuel, which is ridiculous.

        They did a good job of including all the buzz words that folks love; Fuel cell, solar, storage, cars for the masses, cheap and environmentally friendly, dramatically lower cost, green, not reliant of fossil fuels, huge advance (like cell phone camera), distinquished professor...

        Did AI generate this?
      • by Anonymous Coward
        Pffft... Hydrogen is easy to store. Just burn it and it gets converted to water vapor. Then condense it and you can store it safely in a bottle.
    • by scsirob ( 246572 )

      Sounds like they invented a way to turn a megaWatt into a kiloWatt.
      Well done, guys..

  • So not only is energy being created but hydrogen itself. What an amazing invention. And all from solar power (which apparently isn't energy?). Perhaps it's a photo to hydrogen converter that produces an excess of energy. Quantum vacuum blah blah.

  • by jfdavis668 ( 1414919 ) on Monday November 20, 2017 @11:52PM (#55592471)
    How about inventing one that takes CO2 out of the air, and turns it back into coal? Then we can employ all the out of work coal miners to put it back where it came from.
    • That's a neat idea, but what's the inverse of a pickaxe?

    • There are, in fact, ways to extract CO2 and turn it into fuel we can burn again, closing the carbon cycle. Trees are nature's method for it.

      Artificial methods just aren't cost effective yet.

    • It's called a plant. Takes a while to complete the conversion process though.

      See, pure hydrogen is a bitch to deal with. It's gaseous at STP and extremely low density so you need high pressures to get any reasonable energy density, and it's a tiny molecule so seeps through hoses and valves which are watertight and airtight. So taking sunlight and storing its energy in hydrogen presents huge engineering challengesl.

      Plants ran into the exact same problem about a half billion years ago. Their solutio
      • We already have a process of hydrocarbon chains on an industrial scale. This has been employed by the Germans during WWII and in South Africa during their trade embargoes. The problem is that it is an energy intensive process. What we need is a low CO2 energy source to drive this process.

        The US Navy has been researching the process of taking hydrogen (from water) and attaching it to carbon (as CO2 dissolved in same water) and making hydrocarbons. They have proven the process works and produces usable hy

    • I guess if global temperature continues to rise, we will have another Carboniferous period and the problem will solve itself.
  • Now we're going to have all the clean energy we need but we'll run out of water and die.

  • Cobalt (Score:5, Insightful)

    by afidel ( 530433 ) on Tuesday November 21, 2017 @02:09AM (#55592945)

    Cobalt is the limiting agent for mass production of current chemistry lithium batteries so starting research on a new energy storage system and relying on Cobalt is stupid. Cobalt is currently only produced as a byproduct if Aluminum smelting and without a massive uptick in Aluminum usage there isn't going to be enough to electrify more than ~10 of world-wide vehicle fleets yet we have politicians deciding we're going to ban ICE vehicles in 20 years or less. Trying to divert that limiting resource from a competing tech that has a 20 year head start on economic development is a sure way to fail.

  • Storing energy as hydrogen and burning it in a car later is 3x less efficient than storing it in batteries. Hydrogen makes no sense. Get a battery electric vehicle instead.

    • by whit3 ( 318913 )

      Storing energy as hydrogen and burning it in a car later is 3x less efficient than storing it in batteries. Hydrogen makes no sense. Get a battery electric vehicle instead.

      A fuel cell IS a battery. Hydrogen for a fuel cell is oxidized in the same oxidation/reduction manner as any other battery chemistry.

      The '3x' number comes from... where?

      • *sigh*

        What has Slashdot come to? :-/

        https://www.wattfuelcell.com/d... [wattfuelcell.com]

        The number 3 is an underestimation, if anything. At least if you're looking at cars (EV) vs. hydrogen cars. that's because it's very inefficient to first produce hydrogen with solar (electrolysis), then put them in fuelcells of cars, which in turn have to use the energy of those cells (and have additional loss at the conversion once again).

        It's simple to see that directly using electricity to and from batteries are far more efficient.

    • by hipp5 ( 1635263 )

      Hydrogen makes no sense.

      That's a dangerously definitive statement. I suspect there are situations where hydrogen does make sense as an energy medium. For example, perhaps a company will decide to set up massive wind farms far from human habitation (to avoid all the complaints), and transport the energy to market in the form of hydrogen instead of building a high-voltage grid to the middle of nowhere. I agree that hydrogen probably does not make sense as the backbone of our coming energy storage revolution (or cars, as you point ou

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