Science Current Events | Science News |

Saving sunshine for a rainy day: New catalyst offers efficient storage of green energy

March 28, 2016

We can't control when the wind blows and when the sun shines, so finding efficient ways to store energy from alternative sources remains an urgent research problem. Now, a group of researchers led by Professor Ted Sargent at the University of Toronto's Faculty of Applied Science & Engineering may have a solution inspired by nature.

The team has designed the most efficient catalyst for storing energy in chemical form, by splitting water into hydrogen and oxygen, just like plants do during photosynthesis. Oxygen is released harmlessly into the atmosphere, and hydrogen, as H2, can be converted back into energy using hydrogen fuel cells.

"Today on a solar farm or a wind farm, storage is typically provided with batteries. But batteries are expensive, and can typically only store a fixed amount of energy," says Sargent. "That's why discovering a more efficient and highly scalable means of storing energy generated by renewables is one of the grand challenges in this field."

You may have seen the popular high-school science demonstration where the teacher splits water into its component elements, hydrogen and oxygen, by running electricity through it. Today this requires so much electrical input that it's impractical to store energy this way -- too great proportion of the energy generated is lost in the process of storing it.

This new catalyst facilitates the oxygen-evolution portion of the chemical reaction, making the conversion from H2O into O2 and H2 more energy-efficient than ever before. The intrinsic efficiency of the new catalyst material is over three times more efficient than the best state-of-the-art catalyst.

The new catalyst is made of abundant and low-cost metals tungsten, iron and cobalt, which are much less expensive than state-of-the-art catalysts based on precious metals. It showed no signs of degradation over more than 500 hours of continuous activity, unlike other efficient but short-lived catalysts. Their work was published today in the leading journal Science.

"With the aid of theoretical predictions, we became convinced that including tungsten could lead to a better oxygen-evolving catalyst. Unfortunately, prior work did not show how to mix tungsten homogeneously with the active metals such as iron and cobalt," says Dr. Bo Zhang, one of the study's lead authors. "We invented a new way to distribute the catalyst homogenously in a gel, and as a result built a device that works incredibly efficiently and robustly."

This research united engineers, chemists, materials scientists, mathematicians, physicists, and computer scientists across three countries. A chief partner in this joint theoretical-experimental study was a leading team of theorists at Stanford University and SLAC National Accelerator Laboratory under the leadership of Dr. Aleksandra Vojvodic. The international collaboration included researchers at East China University of Science & Technology, Tianjin University, Brookhaven National Laboratory, Canadian Light Source and the Beijing Synchrotron Radiation Facility.

"The team developed a new materials synthesis strategy to mix multiple metals homogeneously -- thereby overcoming the propensity of multi-metal mixtures to separate into distinct phases," said Jeffrey C. Grossman, the Morton and Claire Goulder and Family Professor in Environmental Systems at Massachusetts Institute of Technology. "This work impressively highlights the power of tightly coupled computational materials science with advanced experimental techniques, and sets a high bar for such a combined approach. It opens new avenues to speed progress in efficient materials for energy conversion and storage."

"This work demonstrates the utility of using theory to guide the development of improved water-oxidation catalysts for further advances in the field of solar fuels," said Gary Brudvig, a professor in the Department of Chemistry at Yale University and director of the Yale Energy Sciences Institute.

"The intensive research by the Sargent group in the University of Toronto led to the discovery of oxy-hydroxide materials that exhibit electrochemically induced oxygen evolution at the lowest overpotential and show no degradation," said University Professor Gabor A. Somorjai of the University of California, Berkeley, a leader in this field. "The authors should be complimented on the combined experimental and theoretical studies that led to this very important finding."


Professor Sargent is the Canada Research Chair in Nanotechnology. The group's work was supported in large part by the Ontario Research Fund--Research Excellence Program, NSERC, the CIFAR Bio-Inspired Solar Energy Program and the U.S. Department of Energy.

University of Toronto Faculty of Applied Science & Engineering

Related Energy Storage Current Events and Energy Storage News Articles

Discovery could energize development of longer-lasting batteries
A University of Texas at Dallas researcher has made a discovery that could open the door to cellphone and car batteries that last five times longer than current ones.

ORNL demonstrates large-scale technique to produce quantum dots
A method to produce significant amounts of semiconducting nanoparticles for light-emitting displays, sensors, solar panels and biomedical applications has gained momentum with a demonstration by researchers at the Department of Energy's Oak Ridge National Laboratory.

Converting cells to burn fat, not store it
Researchers have uncovered a new molecular pathway for stimulating the body to burn fat - a discovery that could help fight obesity, diabetes and cardiovascular disease.

Unexpected discovery leads to a better battery
An unexpected discovery has led to a rechargeable battery that's as inexpensive as conventional car batteries, but has a much higher energy density.

Researchers developed manufacturing method for batteries with organic electrode materials
With people wanting to use smaller electronic devices, smaller energy storage systems are needed. Researchers of Aalto University in Finland have demonstrated the fabrication of electrochemically active organic lithium electrode thin films, which help make microbatteries more efficient than before.

Pumping up energy storage with metal oxides
Material scientists at Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory have found certain metal oxides increase capacity and improve cycling performance in lithium-ion batteries.

Wrinkles and crumples make graphene better
Crumple a piece of paper and it's probably destined for the trash can, but new research shows that repeatedly crumpling sheets of the nanomaterial graphene can actually enhance some of its properties. In some cases, the more crumpled the better.

Carbon leads the way in clean energy
Groundbreaking research at Griffith University is leading the way in clean energy, with the use of carbon as a way to deliver energy using hydrogen.

New synthesis method developed at UEF opens up new possibilities for Li-ion batteries
Lithium-ion batteries are a rapidly growing energy storage method due to their high energy density, especially in mobile applications such as personal electronics and electric cars.

Lithium battery catalyst found to harm key soil microorganism
The material at the heart of the lithium ion batteries that power electric vehicles, laptop computers and smartphones has been shown to impair a key soil bacterium, according to new research published online in the journal Chemistry of Materials.
More Energy Storage Current Events and Energy Storage News Articles

Energy Storage: Fundamentals, Materials and Applications

Energy Storage: Fundamentals, Materials and Applications
by Robert Huggins (Author)

Energy Storage explains the underlying scientific and engineering fundamentals of all major energy storage methods. These include the storage of energy as heat, in phase transitions and reversible chemical reactions, and in organic fuels and hydrogen, as well as in mechanical, electrostatic and magnetic systems. Updated coverage of electrochemical storage systems considers exciting developments in materials and methods for applications such as rapid short-term storage in hybrid and intermittent energy generation systems, and battery optimization for increasingly prevalent EV and stop-start automotive technologies. This nuanced coverage of cutting-edge advances is unique in that it does not require prior knowledge of electrochemistry. Traditional and emerging battery systems are explained,...

Energy Storage in Power Systems

Energy Storage in Power Systems
by Francisco D?az-Gonz?lez (Author), Andreas Sumper (Author), Oriol Gomis-Bellmunt (Author)

Over the last century, energy storage systems (ESSs) have continued to evolve and adapt to changing energy requirements and technological advances. Energy Storage in Power Systems describes the essential principles needed to understand the role of ESSs in modern electrical power systems, highlighting their application for the grid integration of renewable-based generation. Key features: Defines the basis of electrical power systems, characterized by a high and increasing penetration of renewable-based generation. Describes the fundamentals, main characteristics and components of energy storage technologies, with an emphasis on electrical energy storage types. Contains real examples depicting the application of energy storage systems in the power system. Features case studies with and...

Green Electrical Energy Storage: Science and Finance for Total Fossil Fuel Substitution

Green Electrical Energy Storage: Science and Finance for Total Fossil Fuel Substitution
by Gabriele Zini (Author)

Cutting-edge technologies, finance, and implementation for real-world renewable energy storage applicationsPlan, fund, and successfully implement renewable energy storage projects using the expert information contained in this comprehensive guide. Green Electrical Energy Storage: Science and Finance for Total Fossil Fuel Substitution thoroughly explains the theories and technologies used in the many different kinds of electric energy storage along with pertinent economics, legal, and financing information. Written by a recognized expert in the field, the book offers detailed coverage of electrochemical, chemical, electrical, and flywheel mechanical energy storage devices, their integration in energy systems using renewable energy sources, the financial and legal tools to build...

Energy Storage

Energy Storage
by Robert A. Huggins (Author)

Introduction Energy is necessary for a number of reasons, the most basic and obvious involve the preparation of food and the provision of heat to make life comfortable, or at least, bearable. Subsequently, a wide range of technological uses of energy have emerged and been developed, so that the availability of energy has become a central issue in society. The easiest way to acquire useful energy is to simply ?nd it as wood or a hydrocarbon fossil fuel in nature. But it has often been found to be advantageous to convert what is simply available in nature into more useful forms, and the processing and conversion of raw materials, especially petrochemicals have become a very large industry. Wood Wood has been used to provide heat for a great many years. In some cases, it can be acquired as...

Energy Storage: A Nontechnical Guide

Energy Storage: A Nontechnical Guide
by Richard Baxter (Author)

Energy Storage: A Nontechnical Guide, by Richard Baxter, is a complete resource on the operation of energy storage technologies and how they interact in the marketplace today. Baxter explains new opportunities for these technologies, detailed descriptions of the technologies and their market applications, and business opportunities energy storage technologies can expect throughout the industry. The book explains how, and under what conditions, energy storage technologies can become a vital component of the electric power industry.

Energy Storage

Energy Storage
by Yves Brunet (Editor)

Energy storage examines different applications such as electric power generation, transmission and distribution systems, pulsed systems, transportation, buildings and mobile applications. For each of these applications, proper energy storage technologies are foreseen, with their advantages, disadvantages and limits. As electricity cannot be stored cheaply in large quantities, energy has to be stored in another form (chemical, thermal, electromagnetic, mechanical) and then converted back into electric power and/or energy using conversion systems. Most of the storage technologies are examined: batteries, hydrogen, super capacitors, SMES, flywheels, CAES, thermal storage and hydraulic gravitational storage.

Energy Storage for Smart Grids: Planning and Operation for Renewable and Variable Energy Resources (VERs)

Energy Storage for Smart Grids: Planning and Operation for Renewable and Variable Energy Resources (VERs)
by Pengwei Du (Author), Ning Lu (Author)

Energy storage is a main component of any holistic consideration of smart grids, particularly when incorporating power derived from variable, distributed and renewable energy resources. Energy Storage for Smart Grids delves into detailed coverage of the entire spectrum of available and emerging storage technologies, presented in the context of economic and practical considerations. Featuring the latest research findings from the world’s foremost energy storage experts, complete with data analysis, field tests, and simulation results, this book helps device manufacturers develop robust business cases for the inclusion of storage in grid applications. It also provides the comparisons and explanations grid planners and operators need to make informed decisions about which storage...

Photochemical Conversion and Storage of Solar Energy

Photochemical Conversion and Storage of Solar Energy
by John S. Connolly (Editor)

Energy Storage for Power Grids and Electric Transportation: A Technology Assessment

Energy Storage for Power Grids and Electric Transportation: A Technology Assessment
by Paul W. Parfomak (Author)

Energy storage technology has great potential to improve electric power grids, to enable growth in renewable electricity generation, and to provide alternatives to oil-derived fuels in the nation’s transportation sector. In the electric power system, the promise of this technology lies in its potential to increase grid efficiency and reliability—optimizing power flows and supporting variable power supplies from wind and solar generation. In transportation, vehicles powered by batteries or other electric technologies have the potential to displace vehicles burning gasoline and diesel fuel, reducing associated emissions and demand for oil. Federal policy makers have become increasingly interested in promoting energy storage technology as a key enabler of broad electric power and...

Photovoltaic Design and Installation For Dummies

Photovoltaic Design and Installation For Dummies
by Ryan Mayfield (Author)

The fun and easy way to get a grip on photovoltaic design and installation Designing and installing solar panel systems is a trend that continues to grow. With 'green collar' jobs on the rise and homeowners looking for earth-friendly ways to stretch their dollars and lesson their carbon imprint, understanding photovoltaic design and installation is on the rise. Photovoltaic Design & Installation For Dummies gives you a comprehensive overview of the history, physics, design, installation, and operation of home-scale solar-panel systems. You'll also get an introduction to the foundational mathematic and electrical concepts you need to understand and work with photovoltaic systems. Covers all aspects of home-scale solar-power systems Viable resource for professionals, students, and...

© 2017