Creating power from water

March 25, 2011 by Katie Gatto, weblog
Image credit: J. Am. Chem. Soc., 2009, 131 (11), pp 3838-3839. DOI: 10.1021/ja900023k

( -- Creating power from water. I bet when I say that you picture a dam or a large turbine being pushed by hundreds of thousands of gallons of water, all rushing at tremendous speeds. It is a cool, and accurate, image of how most power comes from water. That is not to say that it is the only way that power can come from water.

Researchers at the The Tata Group have been working with Daniel Nocera, an MIT scientist and founder of SunCatalytix, have found a new way to coax power out of water. If you're wondering how that was accomplished here are the basics.

The research team placed an artificial sheet of artificial cobalt- and phosphate-coated silicon into a jar of water. This produced an effect similar to . The splitting of from water was used to generate power from the . Interestingly enough, this technique was able to produce more power than the current generation of .

This technology, which can be used with gray water, could be used to power a mini power plant, that would be about the size of a refrigerator, according to the researchers. Of course, those plans could change, since this research is really only it its early stages. By next year the team expects to be able to power a small home with only roughly a bottle and a half of .

While specifics of the deal have not been made public at this time, The Tata Group's mission is to being basic needs and other essential resources to low-income peoples, and the best guess is that this technology will involve that market.

Explore further: Catalyst could power homes on a bottle of water, produce hydrogen on-site (w/ Video)

More information:

Related Stories

SiGNa Chemistry Inc creates a water-rechargeable battery

March 2, 2011

When you think about charging a battery you probably picture an outlet, not a bottle of water. One company is out to change all of that. A company called SiGNa Chemistry Inc has created a hydrogen-producing cartridge that ...

Chemists shed light on solar energy storage

December 8, 2006

Chemistry's role in bridging the gap between solar energy's limited present use and enormous future potential was the topic of a recent article by MIT Professor Daniel G. Nocera and a colleague.

Portable power source cleans water (w/ Video)

October 21, 2010

( -- One of the challenges faced by millions of people around the world is access to clean drinking water. Additionally, during natural disasters, it can be difficult for stricken areas to have access to the power ...

MIT researchers harness the sun's power

May 12, 2010

For decades, scientists have been trying to replicate the process of photosynthesis -- the process by which plants convert sunlight into energy. The Economist reports that Angela Belcher and her colleagues at the Massachusetts ...

Recommended for you

What do you get when you cross an airplane with a submarine?

February 15, 2018

Researchers from North Carolina State University have developed the first unmanned, fixed-wing aircraft that is capable of traveling both through the air and under the water – transitioning repeatedly between sky and sea. ...


Adjust slider to filter visible comments by rank

Display comments: newest first

not rated yet Mar 25, 2011
Uh, the bugbear of such processes is biofilm aka gunge...
2.5 / 5 (2) Mar 25, 2011
While this sounds WAY too good to be true to the extent described, if it provides hydrogen production which is cheaper (given transport costs of other sources) it could be very beneficial for many industries.
5 / 5 (1) Mar 25, 2011
Right off the bat they misspell "dam".
not rated yet Mar 25, 2011
@Nik_2213 So coat the whole thing in Sharklet plastic. Alternatively, toss a cup of bleach through it once a year, or month. Whatever works to stop stuff without keeping the water from getting to the catalyst, or damaging the catalyst.
1 / 5 (3) Mar 25, 2011
Maybe I'm a stickler for grammar, but
an artificial sheet of artificial cobalt- and phosphate- coated silicon
seems to be redundant. Unless the cobalt and phosphate are created in breeder reactors and then coated onto the silicon sheets.
5 / 5 (1) Mar 25, 2011
Tata. Enough said. They excel in B.S.
1 / 5 (1) Mar 25, 2011
artificial cobalt- and phosphate-coated siliconwhat the hey is that?!?!?
1 / 5 (1) Mar 25, 2011
This reads like an advertisement written by a five-year-old.
3.5 / 5 (2) Mar 25, 2011
An add for TATA,or the government "stimulus"? Both I think.Isn't this stuff supposed to be objective science and not political cheer leading?
Is artificial cobalt like fake cobalt?
4.7 / 5 (3) Mar 25, 2011
How can this be more efficient than present solar directly to electricity? Sure, H2 is more portable, but then using it in an internal combustion energy wastes about 2/3rds of the possible energy. Wouldn't we have to use something like an efficient fuel cell to go backwards and avoid the waste?
4 / 5 (4) Mar 25, 2011
The sun naturally slowly splits water. A catalyst speeds up the process. Then you use a fuel cell to capture the energy. Current mainstream fuel cells are not cheap nor lasting which are issues the team has not solved; they just designed the catalyst. In the water-split energy model, the catalist can be thought of as how much sunlight is capturable; the better the catalyst the more energy that can be captured. If memory serves me correctly, fuel cells are about 50% efficient whereas solar panel mainstream about 18%. So if catalyst is producing same amount of light as would hit the solar panel, then it would be like having a solar panel working at 50% efficiency.

You can also try to get the energy from evaperation (its way up thought pressure and fluid generators) once it reaches top recombining into water then use normal generator to take advantage of gravity.
3.7 / 5 (3) Mar 25, 2011
Sure, H2 is more portable, but then using it in an internal combustion energy wastes about 2/3rds of the possible energy. Wouldn't we have to use something like an efficient fuel cell to go backwards and avoid the waste?

Well, you can use the hydrogen directly to give you heat, which is pretty much 100% efficient, although many places with lots of sun don't need all that much heat.

The real trouble of using solar energy is the variability of the output, which means that while you do get energy, you can't use it to replace other traditional ways of producing energy because you aren't necessarily getting it when you need it. No matter how efficient your solar panel is, it won't give you much anything when the sun isn't up in the sky and directly over the panels, which is just couple hours around midday.

That makes it impossible to actually power a city using solar energy. You have to be able to store it somehow, so in a sense, efficiency isn't as important as steady output.
2.8 / 5 (4) Mar 25, 2011
There's another catch, too.

A catalyst based panel, even if it's ultimately less efficient than a photovoltaic panel in absolute terms, has the potential to capture more solar energy because it may be able to capture sunlight coming in at an angle, which means that for a fixed non-tracking panel, you get more hours of the day when it actually produces significant amounts of energy.

Current photovoltaic panels produce on average just about 10% of their nominal capacity simply because the sun is constantly moving across the sky, and they can't use light that comes in at beyond a certain angle relative to the surface normal, so they can't use e.g. light that is reflected in from the surroundings.

The effect is similiar to cheap computer monitors where the contrast diminishes when you sit off-center from the screen. You can imagine it as a sort of a narrow cone extending from the panel, inside which the sun has to be before the panel will produce electricity.
1 / 5 (1) Mar 25, 2011
If this is true, then does it mean the dawn of the age of "off-grid living", where people aren't beholden to supplied electricity?
3.8 / 5 (5) Mar 26, 2011
I am still waiting for the car that runs on water.
not rated yet Mar 26, 2011
In the video it seems to show the catalyst producing bubbles of gas from the light of a small flashlight. Unfortunately it was only about a five second clip of it in action. Numbers would be nice.
3 / 5 (2) Mar 26, 2011
This is not "power from water." It's "power from water, silicon, cobalt and phosphate." I hate the constant exaggeration and hype around technology. If I were a betting man I'd say this will never see the light of day (Pun intended, sadly).
3.7 / 5 (6) Mar 26, 2011
My Spidey sense is tingling! It sounds like scam to get more funding. Why?

1) The video was appalling. Full of platitudes and extraordinary claims with regular emphasis on funding and venture capital and no technical detail.

2) In the video the guy says they've been working on it for 25 years, but the article concludes that the research is its early stages. How much longer does he need to work on it - until retirement?

3) They make the claim that they'll be able to power a small home with only a bottle and a half of water. WTF? Even if you extracted all the hydrogen from that quantity of water, there is no way you could power a house, even a small one (unless it's for a minute or so).

3 / 5 (4) Mar 26, 2011
This article was posted too soon, was supposed to go up 4/1
1 / 5 (2) Mar 26, 2011
I bet when I say that you picture a damn or a large turbine being pushed by hundreds of thousands of gallons of water, all rushing at tremendous speeds.

I don't know about you, but when I picture a "damn", I picture someone who is upset! Oh, how about, "Reduce our dependence on foreign oil - give a damn for Christmas!"
3 / 5 (1) Mar 26, 2011
Uh, the bugbear of such processes is biofilm aka gunge...

Anyone who's owned a fishtank can tell you how to deal with that.
1.9 / 5 (9) Mar 26, 2011
I am still waiting for the car that runs on water.

Don't you mean to say that drives on water?(cars don't have legs)
2.3 / 5 (6) Mar 26, 2011

Surprisingly, hydrogen is the densest fuel on earth.
1 US gallon of water = 2487 US gallons of hydrogen (using H1 form not H2 form like article)

However, you need 4 times to volume of hydrogen for same amount of energy as gasoline.

Therefore, 1 gallon of water = 696 gallons of "conventional fuel".

1 bottle of water = 0.132 gallons
1 bottle of water = 92 gallons of conventional fuel

You will lose some of it in the fuel cell (probably 50%), but that should be plenty to power home for 1 day even in Antarctica. The problem is, ironically, you usually end up spending more energy to do the electrolysis (splitting)...battery and water experiment...but in this case they are using free energy...the sun...and a catalyst...but electrolysis is f-in slow, so it better be a good catalyst.
1 / 5 (1) Mar 26, 2011
1 / 5 (1) Mar 26, 2011
1.9 / 5 (9) Mar 26, 2011
As evidenced by stereotypical comments on this board, the conventional physics establishment seems blatantly uninterested in pursuing cutting-edge energy production technologies (you guys should be ashamed).

There is far too much emphasis upon theory-driven power generation research amongst those who have far too much confidence in the popular theories which drive physics today. There really needs to be much more consideration that the current models might be wrong.

For instance, what is the conventional explanation for the maintenance of the charge separation which Eugene Pollack clearly observes in a cup of water hit by light? Astrophysicists are taught in school that charge separation is supposed to be exceptionally rare, and that recombination occurs immediately. And yet, Pollack clearly observes clusterings clusterings of charge in a glass of water -- suggesting that this is occurring in every single drop of water in the universe.
1.6 / 5 (7) Mar 26, 2011
If we permit the establishment to have its way, we will continue to invest billions of dollars into self-sustaining fusion research, and ignore low-cost competing technologies which show significantly more relative progress. It's by now a very rich tradition.

This (arrogant) confidence in conventional theory -- which is not at all based upon a comprehensive review of competing scientific frameworks -- is by now interfering in the pursuit of promising investigative leads towards the goal of new sources for power.

At some point, you guys need to come to terms with the never-ending, thoughtless obstructionism which results from this *preference* for conventional theory.

At the point where this unfaltering faith in conventional theory is harming our economy, it's really time for people to just shut up about their skepticism. These researchers, without a doubt, already know that you are skeptical. But, our economy is far more important than all of that.
4.7 / 5 (3) Mar 26, 2011

Using your reference and a few others, I've reached a different conclusion. I'm not claiming to be 100% right or not to have made a mistake somewhere along the line, but here's what I get.

1 gallon of water = 3.78kg (210.3 moles of H2O)
Stoichiometrically, there is a 1 to 1 ratio of water to hydrogen so 210.3 moles of H2 produces 420.6 g by weight.

H2 has around 2.75 times the energy per weight of gasoline. Gasoline weighs about 4 kg/gal.


420.6 g of H2 has equivalent gasoline energy =
0.4206 * 2.75 = 1.15665 kg (of gasoline).

Therefore one gallon of water can at best yield the energy equivalent of 1.16 kg of gasoline.

This is the absolute best case scenario. If you take into account conversion losses, making the H2 usable, and an unstated RATE of conversion (does it take a day, two days a week?), then it's not really looking like it can power a house for very long.
1 / 5 (1) Mar 28, 2011
Say we make it to a hydrogen economy. What happens as I pump water into my home, into a container exposed to sunlight, and it separates into H2 and O2, and then I keep those two gases separate and wait for recombination (exothermic). You get loss of hydrogen into the environment given any existing container, and what happens to unbound H2 in a house? I suspect it's either going to combine with something somewhere (although H2 is pretty stable, right?) or it's going to float up until it drifts away into space (after all, only the gas giant planets can hold the stuff by gravity alone).
So this water, of which we have a limited amount, becomes a fuel. It is safe and bound right now, but by using it, some of it (in some methods, most) leaves the planet outright. This is potentially disastrous, though I admit not likely a plague some era not-so-soon, as we do have those scrumptious big 'ol gas giants.
Water Wars, indeed.
not rated yet Mar 28, 2011
The average US home consumes 14,400 Wh per day and gasoline has energy density of 12,700 Wh per kg. So if hydrogen from one gallon of water = 1.16 kg of gasoline then one gallon of water per day for a US home is right on target.

Watch this lecture of Nocera's from December 10 2010 at Harvey Mudd. He explains much more than the news bite here on physorg, particularly towards the end.

Hopes to have a prototype in 18 months from then and a product for the poor in two years, and a product for the rich in four years.

I've been following him since 2008. We should know if its too good to be true soon enough.
1 / 5 (1) Mar 29, 2011

One of the easiest points to extrapolate from the article is that:
1 gallon of water = 4707 Liters of H2.
Websites on the internet juggle between saying you need 3-4X the volume of H1 to output same energy as gasoline. E.g. 4 Liters of H1 = 1 Liter of gasoline.
So let's assume the worst, 4 times.
To get H1, we can simply multiply 4707 by 2 = 9414 Liters of H1
Convert to US gallons: 9414 Liters to US Gallons = 2487
2487 / 4 = 622 (lol I rounded to much in original calculations -> 696)
Therefore 1 gallon of water = 622 liters of gasoline.
1 bottle of water = 0.132 US gallons
622 X 0.132 = 82 gallons of gasoline.

Now when you put that in a fuel cell it turns it into electricity.
For comparison, this is no different then putting gasoline in a cottage generator.
Why, because generators all have about 50% efficiency...and what a coincidence so do fuel cells. So you can literally take the 82 gallons figure and view it as real gasoli
not rated yet Mar 31, 2011

The volume of 4707 liters of hydrogen from 1 gallon of water is at standard temperature and pressure - 1 atm at 273 K.

The number of 3-4x the energy per volume of hydrogen compared to volume of (liquid) gasoline is for liquid hydrogen, which only exists at either much lower temperature (20K) or much higher pressure (or both). BTW, hydrogen only exists under natural conditions as H2.

So your calculation is off.
not rated yet Apr 01, 2011
So this water, of which we have a limited amount, becomes a fuel. It is safe and bound right now, but by using it, some of it (in some methods, most) leaves the planet outright. This is potentially disastrous, though I admit not likely a plague some era not-so-soon, as we do have those scrumptious big 'ol gas giants.
You do recognize that 20% or so of the atmosphere is oxygen, right? Any escaping hydrogen will most likely end up as either a spot of corrosion on a metal, or as condensation when it combines with free O2.
1 / 5 (1) Apr 02, 2011

About 1/3rd of all energy used in a home is actually in the water heater for bathing and washing clothes.

I have seen multiple demonstrations of people making their own custom solar water heaters which completely replace their electric ones during the summer, and cut water heater electric needs in half during winter.

I have also seen demonstrations of solar forced air heaters which cut the owner's heating oil or electric bills in half during the winter.

So basicly, you can reduce your total electric (or other energy) bill for your home by about half using solar power, without using ANY photovoltaics at all.

The solar water heater project costs a few hundred dollars and pays for itself in about a year or so.

The solar forced air heater projects cost about a thousand dollars, and pay for themselves in as little as a year or two.

Please sign in to add a comment. Registration is free, and takes less than a minute. Read more

Click here to reset your password.
Sign in to get notified via email when new comments are made.