The Newshour with Jim Lehrer Sept. 22 explored the work of two MIT professors who are wrestling with fundamental problems in renewable energy – how to make sure energy is available when the sun does not shine and the wind does not blow.
“One of the big problems in solar and wind is storage,” says Professor Donald Sadoway, who works in materials chemistry and materials engineering. “You can’t just go to the store and buy a bunch of lead acid batteries and lie them down in a field. You’ve got to have high-density, high-powered storage capability. The battery is the key enabling technology.”
New materials and the ability to scale up to massive megawatt storage are fundamental to the solution. Sadoway and his lab is experimenting with liquid metal batteries with new form factors. Professor Daniel Nocera, who works in energy and chemistry, takes a different approach. He and his lab use a well know method to split water into oxygen and hydrogen gas, but add a new catalyst to reduce the energy required in the process. Hydrogen stored with this method could be burned in a large fuel cell that could power a house or a small one to run a car, he says. This method is solves two major problems—storage and transportation— for what Nocera calls the Hydrogen Economy, the large-scale production and use of hydrogen as a fuel.