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 Integrity Research Institute                                       DECEMBER 2014TOC











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In This Holiday Issue








Dear Subscriber,     HAPPY HOLIDAYS!


   This month IRI is engaged in its once-a-year Fund-Raising Campaign. We depend upon you for continuing the IRI all-volunteer effort to help the world with emerging energy, propulsion and bioenergetics information and we have no payroll expenses for a nonprofit organization, so your donation goes much farther. You can help us make a difference in the academic, commercial, and private arenas with your tax-deductible donation (#2 button on left) ormembership (#1 button). If you become an IRI Member before December 31, 2014, we will send directly to you this year's annual Member's gift and next year's too -- annual gifts for TWO years in a row! You might also consider getting that last minute Holiday gift such as the popular EM Pulser with a 30-day money back guarantee and one-year warranty.


   As IRI Members know, we align ourselves with the Union of Concerned Scientists (UCS) in many of their scientific and energy areas and often send copies of the UCS Catalyst magazine in our quarterly mailings to Members. Well, this month Four Champions of Science are up for a vote and all of them are inspiring. We and UCS applaud their efforts and want to recognize them for what they've accomplished. We also want to give you the chance to vote for the one whose story most inspires you.


   Another surprise this month was receiving an invitation from The International Journal of Geosciences (IJG, ISSN Online: 2156-8367), a peer-reviewed open-access journal, seeking papers for the upcoming special issue on "Gravity Research". We would like to invite you to submit or recommend original research papers to this issue through ourPaper Submission System. (Submission Deadline is December 18, 2014).


   Our Story #1 gives us hope that inertial and magnetic confinement fusion might still possibly be viable forms of fusion, with Lockheed Martin and companies like Fusion Power, General Fusion, and Helion in the game. The story also mentions one of the IRI affinity company  Lawrencevile Plasma Physics, which has used crowdfunding to further advance proton-boron fusion, an alternative and perhaps the most simple and exciting form of fusion today since it is four times a powerful as hitting two deuterons together. See for a summary of CEO Eric Lerner's presentation at the IRI COFE3 event and also our Videos for his brief trailer.


   Story #2 reveals an amazing discovery that in 2013 it was found that infrared laser pulses could increase the quantum coupling and make the ordinary cold superconductor YBCO transform at room temperature and start superconducting for a few picoseconds with NO cooling at all. This give great hope for solving the room temperature problem for all superconductors in the near future. Why do we need superconductors? Well, Story #3 tells the intriguing and surprising tale of  high voltage cables connecting Norway to several countries which are perfect for superconductors when they become operable at room temperature. Norway has figured out the simplest energy storage game in the world: pump water. When they can reduce the electrical power cost to 6 to 7 cents per kWh instead of 9 to 12 cents per kWh, then the rest of Europe wants to connect to Norway for gigawatts of power without damaging the environment.


    Story #4 gives us a great overview for the good news about the spike in the Solar Power Revolution. The US is now reported to have about 13 GW of solar power installed to power 2.4 million households. To continue the growth spurt, important focus areas are cited including renewable electricity standards for every state and solar tax credits if our new Congress will stop thinking about the Keystone fossil fuel pipe and instead, look toward saving the environment with long-term solutions that our decendants will thank us for.


   Talking about decendants, there is no doubt that some of them will live on Mars for one reason or another. How about if it were possible, as Story #5 tells us, to split water into oxygen and hydrogen but save the mix for release with a simple platinum catalyst? That is what the University of Glasgow

 has accomplished. In return, it is estimated 30 times as much hydrogen  can be made from the process than with existing

systems for the same power input, since only a single pulse of energy is needed.


Have a Happy Holiday and Prosperous New Year!


Thomas Valone, PhD



By Evan Ackerman  IEEE SPECTRUM  DECEMBER 2014

 Modifying the most common type of experimental reactor might finally make fusion power feasible



Fusion Power  has many compelling arguments in its favor. It doesn't produce dangerous, long-term toxic waste, like nuclear fission. It's far cleaner than coal, with a supply of fuel that's virtually unlimited. And unlike with wind and solar, the output of a fusion power plant would be constant and reliable.


The primary argument against fusion power has been that despite decades of work, it still doesn't exist. But that's no hindrance to a fresh crop of enthusiasts from academia, government, private industry, and even venture capital firms.


In October, Lockheed Martin Corp. revealed that it's been working on a type of fusion reactor that could be made small enough to transport by truck.Lawrenceville Plasma Physics raised money through crowdfunding in June to advance its alternative proton-boron fusion. Helion Energy is developing a type of fusion based on magnetic compression, and General Fusion is working toward a power system that involves shock waves inside a vortex of liquid metal.


A particularly promising approach was unveiled recently by a University of Washington research group, led byplasma physicist Tom Jarboe. They've been developing a type of fusion reactor called a dynomak. The researchers involved say the technology is unique in that it offers a path to a power plant that's backed up by demonstrated physics and because such a reactor also promises to be even more economical than a coal-fired power plant.


The dynomak is a variation of the most popular type of research fusion machine, the tokamak. Essentially, a tokamak is a doughnut-shaped machine that generates helical magnetic fields by combining toroidal fields (which go around the doughnut's equator) with poloidal fields (which wrap around the outside of the doughnut). These fields have to be strong enough to keep plasma stable and contained indefinitely at the tens to hundreds of millions of degrees Celsius necessary to induce fusion.


In practice, tokamaks are hollow, doughnut-shaped vacuum chambers with interior walls made of heat-resistant metals or ceramics. Outside the chamber are massive superconducting coils that generate the toroidal magnetic fields that stabilize the plasma. The European Union, China, India, Japan, Russia, South Korea, and the United States are collaborating to build a giant US $50 billion tokamak in France called ITER (originally International Thermonuclear Experimental Reactor), which may lead to a fusion power plant in the 2030s. But the University of Washington group-and its alternative-fusion competitors-are hoping to beat it to commercialization.


The University of Washington's dynomak is a refinement of a subtype of tokamak called a spheromak. The most important difference is that the spheromak does away with most of the tokamak's expensive superconducting magnetic coils. Instead, a spheromak uses the electric currents flowing though the plasma itself to generate the magnetic fields needed to both stabilize and confine the plasma.


This is tricky, as UW graduate student Derek Sutherland explains. For it to work, you need not only a sophisticated understanding of the physics underlying the behavior of the plasma but also a very efficient way of driving the current. If you're not careful, you'll end up dumping all the energy that your reactor is producing right back into the plasma just to keep it contained-resulting in a very expensive machine that will power itself and nothing else.


According to Sutherland, the big breakthrough was UW's experimental discovery in 2012 of a physical mechanism called imposed-dynamo current drive (hence "dynomak"). By injecting current directly into the plasma, imposed-dynamo current drive lets the system control the helical fields that keep the plasma confined. The result is that you can reach steady-state fusion in a relatively small and inexpensive reactor. "We are able to drive plasma current more efficiently than previously possible," says Sutherland. "With that efficiency can come higher current and a more compact, economical design."


How economical? According to projections by Sutherland's group, a dynomak has the potential to cost less than a tenth as much to build as a tokamak like ITER, even as it produces five times as much power. This massive boost in efficiency is very compelling: According to UW's analysis, it makes the total cost of a dynomak fusion power plant with an output of 1 gigawatt slightly cheaper than the total cost of a coal power plant with the same output-$2.7 billion versus $2.8 billion.


The UW researchers are particularly optimistic about their dynomak because it's not much of a deviation from established systems. "I think we've blended the mainstream and alternates into a pathway that is completely plausible but different enough to really start addressing the economic issues facing fusion power," says Sutherland.


"The spheromak-and the dynomak is a species of spheromak-in particular has not received the level of attention that it warrants," says University of Iowa physicist Fred Skiff. "The potential advantages are significant: a lower magnetic field-and therefore lower cost and complexity-and a smaller reactor." The lower magnetic field requirements are important because "large superconducting coils are not trivial to produce and protect in a reactor environment."


However, "there are significant unknowns," says Skiff. "The ability to control the current profile, the plasma position, and the ability to maintain high confinement will have to be demonstrated."

The next steps for the dynomak are straightforward. The experimental device Jarboe's group is working with right now, called HIT-SI3, is about one-tenth the size that a commercial dynomak fusion reactor would be. It includes three helicity injectors, which are the coils that control the delivery of twisting magnetic fields into the plasma. "The eventual dynomak reactor will have six injectors according to the current design," says Sutherland. With $8 million to $10 million in funding, the group hopes to construct HIT-SIX, a six-injector machine that will be twice as large as HIT-SI3.


At that size, things start to get interesting, says Sutherland. HIT-SIX is designed to reach millions of degrees Celsius using a mega-ampere of plasma current. If imposed-dynamo current drive works well in HIT-SIX, he'll be "much more confident going forward that our development path will be successful," he says.

That entire path, including an electricity-generating pilot plant, would require about $4 billion, Jarboe's group projects. Compared with ITER's $50 billion, that's a bargain.







Funding: $3 million from private investors, plus $180,000 from a crowdfunding campaign on Indiegogo; currently applying for a two-year, $2 million Advanced Research Projects Agency-Energy grant. How does it work? A strong pulse of electricity generates filaments of plasma. The filaments are combined, and natural instabilities cause them to twist into a plasmoid. The plasmoid self-heats to reach a fusion state. What's the advantage? Instead of trying to control plasma instabilities with magnetic fields, the system uses the instabilities to create fusion. Hydrogen-boron fusion reactions do not create radioactive by-products. When will it be commercial? Currently performing test shots to increase plasma density; garage-size 5-MW generators by 2020 costing $300,000 to $500,000 each.





Funding: Internal. How does it work? The device [above] is similar to a tokamak, but it uses a new type of self-tuning feedback mechanism to control its magnetic field geometry. What's the advantage? Very efficient reactors will be small enough to fit inside trucks and shipping containers, and they could even power an airplane indefinitely.When will it be commercial? Currently testing operational theories; functional reactor by about 2025.









Funding: US $7 million from NASA, the Department of Energy, and the Department of Defense, plus $1.5 million in seed funding.How does it work? Plasma fuel forms stable toroids at either end of a chamber. The toroids are then slammed together at more than1.6 million kilometers per hour. What's the advantage? All solid-state electronics make for small, modular power plants. Fusion energy is directly converted to electricity. The plant generates its own helium-3 fuel as a by-product. When will it be commercial?Currently developing a reactor-scale fusion core; 50-megawatt pilot plant in 2019.




 Funding: $55 million, primarily venture capital.How does it work? Magnetic fields briefly confine plasma inside a vortex of liquid metal. Steam-
pistons create a spherical shock wave, which collapses the liquid metal vortex, compressing the fuel to achieve a burst of fusion energy. What's the advantage?Plasma needs only a brief confinement, and steam-powered pistons lead to a simple, cheap reactor. When will it be commercial?Currently testing reactor subcomponents; successful prototype in 2015 could lead to commercial reactor in 2020.


back to table of contents 


2) Superconductivity without Cooling

Phys.Org, December 4th, 2014 in Physics / Superconductivity





No resistance at room temperature: The resonant excitation of oxygen oscillations (blurred) between CuO2 double layers (light blue, Cu yellowy orange, O red) with short light pulses leads to the atoms in the crystal lattice briefly shifting away from their equilibrium positions. This shift brings about an increase in the separations of CuO2 layers within a double layer and a simultaneous decrease in the separations between double layers. It is highly probable that this enhances the superconductivity. Credit: Jörg Harms/MPI for the Structure and Dynamics of Matter.


Superconductivity is a remarkable phenomenon: superconductors can transport electric current without any resistance and thus without any losses whatsoever. It is already in use in some niche areas, for example as magnets for nuclear spin tomography or particle accelerators. However, the materials must be cooled to very low temperatures for this purpose. But during the past year, an experiment has provided some surprises.


With the aid of short infrared laser pulses, researchers have succeeded for the first time in making a ceramic superconducting at room temperature - albeit for only a few millionths of a microsecond. An international team, in which physicists from the Max Planck Institute for the Structure and Dynamics of Matter in Hamburg have made crucial contributions, has now been able to present a possible explanation of the effect in the journal Nature: The scientists believe that laser pulses cause individual atoms in the crystal lattice to shift briefly and thus enhance the superconductivity. The findings could assist in the development of materials which become superconducting at significantly higher temperatures and would thus be of interest for new applications.


In the beginning, superconductivity was known only in a few metals at temperatures just above absolute zero at minus 273 degrees Celsius. Then, in the 1980s, physicists discovered a new class, based on ceramic materials. These already conduct electricity at temperatures of around minus 200 degrees Celsius without losses, and were therefore called high-temperature superconductors. One of these ceramics is the compound yttrium barium copper oxide (YBCO). It is one of the most promising materials for technical applications such as superconducting cables, motors and generators.


The YBCO crystal has a special structure: thin double layers of copper oxide alternate with thicker intermediate layers which contain barium as well as copper and oxygen. The superconductivity has its origins in the thin double layers of copper dioxide. This is where electrons can join up to form so-called Cooper pairs. These pairs can "tunnel" between the different layers, meaning they can pass through these layers like ghosts can pass through walls, figuratively speaking - a typical quantum effect. The crystal only becomes superconducting below a "critical temperature", however, as only then do the Cooper pairs tunnel not only within the double layers, but also "spirit" through the thicker layers to the next double layer. Above the critical temperature, this coupling between the double layers is missing, and the material becomes a poorly conducting metal.


The result helps material scientists to develop new superconductors

In 2013, an international team working with Max Planck researcher Andrea Cavalleri discovered that when YBCO is irradiated with infrared laser pulses it briefly becomes superconducting at room temperature. The laser light had apparently modified the coupling between the double layers in the crystal. The precise mechanism remained unclear, however - until the physicists were able to solve the mystery with an experiment at the LCLS in the US, the world's most powerful X-ray laser. "We started by again sending an infrared pulse into the crystal, and this excited certain atoms to oscillate," explains Max Planck physicist Roman Mankowsky, lead author of the current Nature study. "A short time later, we followed it with a short X-ray pulse in order to measure the precise crystal structure of the excited crystal.


The result: The infrared pulse had not only excited the atoms to oscillate, but had also shifted their position in the crystal as well. This briefly made the copper dioxide double layers thicker - by two picometres, or one hundredth of an atomic diameter - and the layer between them became thinner by the same amount. This in turn increased the quantum coupling between the double layers to such an extent that the crystal became superconducting at room temperature for a few picoseconds.


On the one hand, the new result helps to refine the still incomplete theory of high-temperature superconductors. "On the other, it could assist materials scientists to develop new superconductors with higher critical temperatures," says Mankowsky. "And ultimately to reach the dream of a superconductor that operates at room temperature and needs no cooling at all." Until now, superconducting magnets, motors and cables must be cooled to temperatures far below zero with liquid nitrogen or helium. If this complex cooling were no longer necessary, it would mean a breakthrough for this technology.


More information: "Nonlinear lattice dynamics as a basis for enhanced superconductivity in YBa2Cu3O6.5." Nature 516 71, DOI: 10.1038/nature13875 


Provided by Max Planck Society


Commercialization and plans to continue developing and scaling up its prototypes





3) Norway Wants to be Europe's Battery

By Peter Fairley  IEEE SPECTRUM


The Viking Connection: A new high-voltage DC cable will connect Denmark to Norway.


Norway's hydropower reservoirs make up nearly half of Europe's energy storage capacity. European grid operators need energy storage to cope with an ever-mounting, always-shifting torrent of wind power. See the connection? So does Norway. In December, engineers will energize a new subsea power cable that will begin to bridge the gap between need and opportunity, greatly expanding European power systems' access to Norway's hydropower-rich power grid.


The 240-kilometer cable across the Skagerrak Strait separating southern Norway and northern Denmark is Norway's first new power link to Denmark since 1993. Called Skagerrak 4, its high-voltage direct current (HVDC) converters-the electronic units at either end of the line that transform AC into high-voltage DC and vice versa-are also the building blocks for more ambitious cables from Norway to wind-power heavyweights Germany and the United Kingdom. Construction on those is expected to commence during the coming year.


The existing Skagerrak interconnection, three HVDC cables with a combined 1,000 megawatts of capacity, is already showing the world just how well wind and hydropower complement each other. According to the Danish Energy Agency, such interconnectors are why Denmark can accommodate the world's highest levels of wind power, which met 41.2 percent of Danish demand in the first half of this year. At times wind power production even exceeds the country's domestic power demand.


"We store their surplus in the hydro reservoirs and then feed it back on a seasonal basis or a daily basis. This is a very strong business case," says Håkon Borgen, executive vice president at Statnett, Norway's state grid operator.


Norwegian hydropower turbines throttle down as Norway consumes Danish wind energy instead, leaving an equivalent amount of energy parked behind dams. And when the weather shifts and becalms the North Sea winds, the reservoirs and Skagerrak's cables feed that stored energy back to Denmark.


Borgen says the addition of the 700-MW Skagerrak 4 advances plans to plug the U.K. and Germany into Norway's batteries by pushing the most flexible form of HVDC technology-voltage source converters (VSCs)-to its highest voltage yet. VSCs' ability to stabilize the voltage of the AC grids on both sides of a cable makes the technology better suited than any existing alternative for handling intermittent flows of renewable energy, he says. Skagerrak 4's VSCs operate at 500 kilovolts each-30 percent higher than the previous record holder. Borgen says that voltage boost will be needed to reduce losses on longer runs such as the 720-km cables to the U.K., which will be the world's longest subsea power cables.


ABB, of Zurich, which built Skagerrak 4's VSCs, says the tougher technology challenge was ensuring that the VSCs function well alongside the older HVDC lines. That's because current that Skagerrak 4 carries south across the strait must cycle back to Norway via the Skagerrak 3 cable, which uses the older, classic HVDC converters. This will be the world's first paired operation of cables using VSCs and classic HVDC converters.

Such a pairing gets interesting when operators want to reverse the flow of power-something that can happen up to 1,000 times per year at Skagerrak as winds and markets shift. VSCs normally reverse power flow by reversing a line's current, whereas classic HVDC converters must flip the line's voltage polarity.


So how to reverse power flow on both lines? ABB's solution is a 5- to 10-second process that uses coordinated actions by both converter types and eight high-speed switches that reconfigure the wiring of the VSCs, flipping their polarity so that the flow of power in Skagerrak 4 can change direction while its current keeps flowing south.

The process interrupts the circuit by which current flows from one cable to the other. But Lars-Erik Juhlin, an HVDC expert at ABB, says there is no meaningful loss or surge in power to the AC grids.


The key, explains Juhlin, is the excellent electrical conductivity of seawater. When the power-reversal scheme interrupts the circuit, the converters use subsea electrodes at either shore to feed the return currents across the strait through the water. Sending current through seawater can corrode subsea infrastructure such as natural gas pipelines, but here, the dose makes the poison. "They can accept even 2,000 amps for up to 2 hours. So for a short pulse, it's no problem," says Juhlin.


Statnett's follow-on interconnection projects could move quickly because they will just be longer versions of Skagerrak 4. The first, a pair of 500-kV VSC cables between Norway and Germany, cleared final regulatory approvals last week. Statnett and its European grid partner, Dutch-German firm Tennet, foresee charging up the 1,400-MW NordLink in 2018. The pair of Norway-U.K. cables, a joint effort of Statnett and London-based National Grid, is slated to start by 2020.


There should be many more cables to come if European countries make good on official goals to eliminate carbon emissions from power generation by 2050. The German government's Advisory Council on the Environment, for example, concluded in its influential 2011 report that an optimal zero-carbon power system for Germany would need more than 40 gigawatts of interconnection to Norway. That system, the council projected, would deliver power at a very affordable 6 to 7 euro cents per kilowatt-hour. Without Norwegian storage, power costs would rise to 9 to 12 euro cents per kilowatt-hour.


Ånund Killingtveit, a professor of hydraulic and environmental engineering at the Norwegian University of Science and Technology, says Norwegian hydropower is up to at least part of the task. Killingtveit led a five-year, US $5.7 million research program on hydropower balancing, which showed that existing hydropower reservoirs could "fairly easily" move about 25 GW of energy in and out of storage without damaging the environment-five times as much as they currently manage. The key, he says, is installing pumps to shift water from one reservoir to a higher one nearby, thus actively storing power rather than just deferring production.


If there is a limit to Norway's energy storage potential, it may ultimately be the country's own grid. Statnett has begun a 10-year, $8 billion to $10 billion grid upgrade, but it factors in only 3.5 GW of additional power from the three cable projects. The question may be how many power lines the Norwegians will accept to smooth Europe's departure from fossil fuel power.



4) Solar Power On The Rise


John Rogers, Fall 2014, Catalyst, Union of Concerned Scientists, 



Solar power generates electricity with no global warming pollution, no fuel costs, and no risks of fuel price spikes, and has the potential to help move the country toward cleaner, reliable, and affordable sources of electricity.


Small-scale solar photovoltaic (PV) systems, typically on rooftops, account for the majority of solar installations, while large-scale PV systems and concentrating solar power (CSP) systems constitute the majority of solar's overall electricity-generating capacity.

All three are undergoing rapid growth. Given the abundance of sunshine across the country, solar power has the potential to supply a significant amount of electricity that is both environmentally and economically attractive.



Their increasing cost-effectiveness is largely a result of reductions in technology prices, innovative financing, and growing networks of solar installers and financial partners


Tax credits, rebates, and other support in leading states can cut the total costs of a rooftop system to under $10,000, though many solar customers are paying little or nothing up front by utilizing solar leases or power purchase agreements, which provide electricity from the system over a long period at attractive fixed rates.


Costs for large-scale PV projects have dropped more than household systems, to an average 60 percent lower than those for residential solar on a per-watt basis.


CSP systems have not experienced the same cost reductions, but offer the important advantage of being able to store the sun's energy as heat, and to use it to make electricity when the sun is no longer shining.


Solar power is viable throughout the United States


In a sunny location such as Los Angeles or Phoenix, a five-kilowatt home rooftop PV system produces an average of 7,000 to 8,000 kilowatt-hours per year, roughly equivalent to the electricity use of a typical U.S. household.


In northern climates such as in Portland, Maine, that same system would generate 85 percent of what it would in Los Angeles, 95 percent of what it would in Miami, and six percent more than it would in Houston.


For CSP, the best resources are in the Southwest, though facilities have also appeared in Florida and Hawaii.


    • By early 2014, the United States had more than 480,000 solar systems installed, adding up to 13,400 megawatts (MW)- enough to power some 2.4 million typical U.S. households.
    • The U.S. solar industry employed more than 140,000 people in 2013, a 53 percent increase over 2010, and is investing almost $15 billion in the U.S. economy annually. There are currently more than 6,000 solar companies in the U.S., spread across all 50 states.
    • Companies, too, have embraced rooftop solar not only to improve their environmental profiles but also to lower their operating costs.
    • PV systems require no water to make electricity, unlike coal, nuclear, and other power plants. Likewise, solar panels also generate electricity with no air or carbon pollution, solid waste or inputs other than sunlight.


To continue solar power's rapid growth, we must take steps to support its continued acceleration


Important focus areas include:

  • Renewable electricity standards. States should maintain and strengthen their key policies for driving renewable energy investments, including solar.
  • Solar tax credit. The federal investment tax credit that has been so important for solar's rise is set to decline at the end of 2016 from 30 percent to 10 percent; Congress will need to take action to sustain that support.
  • Federal power plant carbon standards. States should ensure that solar plays a strong role in their plans to reduce emissions to comply with the Environmental Protection Agency's new carbon standards.
  • The full value of solar. Assessing the full range of benefits and costs of solar, particularly rooftop solar, will help policy makers decide the most appropriate way to assist more people in adopting solar.
  • Storage. Lower costs and the greater availability of energy storage technologies will help provide electricity more consistently and at times of peak demand.
  • New utility business models. Utilities should modify their business models to accommodate high levels of rooftop solar and encourage continued solar development, from rooftops to large-scale projects.
  • Research and development. Solar's prospects will be enhanced by continued progress in reducing costs-through greater economies of scale, increasing cell and module efficiencies, improved inverters and mounting systems, better heat transfer, and streamlined transactions.




 Back to table of contents



5) Water-Splitter Could Make Hydrogen Fuel on Mars

 Katharine Sanderson. New Scientist, 2014




Making fuel on site for a return trip to Mars may be a step closer. A cunning way to split water into oxygen and hydrogen in two distinct steps could be a boon to both astronauts and future Earthlings, enabling them to use renewable energy sources for making hydrogen fuel.


Hydrogen fuel cells can power vehicles ranging from cars to submarines and rockets. They can also heat buildings, and double as portable power-packs for computers or other kit used in the field. But existing methods for creating usable hydrogen gas from water require a lot of electricity. That means renewable energy sources like wind or sunlight, which are often patchy, are not reliable enough.


It can also be hazardous to scale up "artificial leaves", which make fuel from sunlight, just like plants, says Lee Cronin at the University of Glasgow, UK. This is because the low powers available don't produce the gases quickly enough to keep them apart once they form. "All they do is build up oxygen and hydrogen until they explode," he says.


Cronin and his colleagues see this as a major obstacle to a future in which hydrogen fuel replaces oil. To get around it, they built a device that uses a single pulse of power to split water, so continuous energy is not needed.


Catch and release

The device zaps water with electricity to release oxygen, then a silicon-based chemical mediator dissolved in the water mops up stray protons and electrons. When it is full, the mediator turns blue, letting a human operator know it can be removed and stored for later. When the hydrogen is needed, putting the mediator in contact with a platinum catalyst allows those electrons and protons to recombine to make hydrogen gas.


The whole process uses a single whack of power, and patchy renewable energy will suffice for this, says Cronin. In return, he says, 30 times as much hydrogen can be made than from existing systems. The device could find uses generating power in developing countries or for making fuel on Mars to power a rocket back to Earth.  


It is unclear whether Cronin's device will be able to compete with other existing processes, says Steve Reece, a water-splitting expert at Lockheed Martin in Cambridge, Massachusetts. "It will be interesting to see how this concept scales."


Journal reference: Science, DOI: 10.1126/science.1257443




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