New Process May Make Renewable Energy Reliable at Last

This sounds like the breakthrough that will make renewables reliable enough to displace fossil fuels entirely.

Chemists at the University of Calgary, in Canada, have found an efficient way to turn electricity from wind and solar energy into hydrogen, which itself can be used as a fuel, emitting nothing more harmful than water vapor, when the wind stops blowing or the Sun is below the horizon. “Essentially, we’re using hydrogen as a storage mechanism for electricity,” said co-author Curtis Berlinguette in an interview.

But the storage techniques energy experts have come up with so far ... are all quite inefficient. Until recently, the same has been true of hydrogen storage.

The chemists’ answer was to use cheaper metals, including plain old iron oxide (a.k.a. rust) in an amorphous, non-crystalline form.

While converting renewable electricity into hydrogen is currently far more expensive than these other methods, the higher efficiency and thousandfold-cheaper materials in this new process could finally make it competitive. 

A company formed by the chemists to commercialize their new technology is planning to have a utility-scale working model on the market sometime next year, with a homeowner-size model, the size of a large refrigerator, by 2015. If that comes to pass, a house equipped with solar panels or a wind turbine could be entirely energy self-sufficient, around the clock.

Tags: energy storage

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YES! Now this is the breakthrough I've been waiting for! I've heard of titanium oxide being used for this purpose, of course, as has everyone who is listening. But using iron oxide is all new to me. I am so excited to see that the most common metal on Earth can be used for this great purpose! 

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