The Missing Link in Renewables
Chemists have created a reversible proton-ceramic electrochemical cell for power generation and fuel production, which, thanks to a unique catalyst, works with an efficiency of 98%.
Nowadays, solar panels and wind turbines are increasingly being used, but storing excess energy in traditional batteries is inefficient and expensive. One alternative is to conserve energy by converting it into hydrogen fuel using electrolysers that break down water. Then, using fuel cells, the process is reversed, using H2 to generate electricity. However, existing equipment uses different catalysts for two opposite reactions..
To solve this problem, chemists at Northwestern University in Evanston have experimented with new proton-ceramic electrochemical cells that are capable of first producing hydrogen and then converting it back to water to generate electricity using just one set of catalysts. Previously, the main obstacle was ceramic catalysts (air electrodes), which used less than 70% of the electricity to break down the H2O molecules, and the rest was lost as heat. Therefore, they focused on improving them..
Researchers recently reported progress in this direction. They developed a five-element ceramic alloy electrode that operates at 98% efficiency. According to the scientists themselves, the experiments were carried out only in the laboratory and still require testing in real installations, which usually leads to a decrease in performance..
However, with a slight decrease in efficiency, new devices will be able to use electricity to operate efficiently, rather than heating the system. If engineers really get it, the cost of energy storage will plummet..
Cambridge decided to choose a different way of storing energy and replace the batteries with tanks of molten salt.
text: Ilya Bauer, photo: inwestorzy