BOSTON, Aug. 23 (UPI) -- U.S. scientists say they've made a discovery that could bring the era of energy self-sufficient homes and small businesses one step closer.
Scientists at the annual meeting of the American Chemical Society have reported the discovery of a powerful catalyst that would be a key element in inexpensive solar energy systems that could free homes and businesses from dependence on the electric company, a society release said Monday.
"Our goal is to make each home its own power station," study leader Daniel Nocera said. "We're working toward development of 'personalized' energy units that can be manufactured, distributed and installed inexpensively.
"There certainly are major obstacles to be overcome -- existing fuel cells and solar cells must be improved, for instance. Nevertheless, one can envision villages in India and Africa not long from now purchasing an affordable basic system."
Such systems would use solar panels to generate electricity needed for heating, lighting and cooking during the day. Surplus energy created would be stored in an "electrolyzer" which breaks ordinary water down into hydrogen and oxygen, which would be stored in tanks.
At night, with no energy coming from solar panels, the system would feed the hydrogen and oxygen back into fuel cells that produce electricity.
The newly discovered catalyst can boost the output of the electrolyzer 200-fold, researchers say.
The catalyst has been licensed to a company, Sun Catalytix, which says it is working to develop safe, super-efficient versions of the electrolyzer, suitable for homes and small businesses, within two years.