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Innovative way to store energy comes up

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28.03.2019

New fuel cells may help store electricity obtained from renewable sources - such as wind farms - by converting it into a chemical fuel that is suitable for long-term storage.When needed, it will be possible to convert them back to electricity.

If we want to have a chance to switch to renewable energy, we need one crucial thing: a technology that could help convert electricity obtained from wind and sun into a chemical fuel that may be subject to storage, as well as the other way round.While there exist commercial devices, most of them are expensive and do not fully deal with the problem.Now, scientists have developed an interesting invention that is currently of a lab scale.Once its commercial version turns out to work at least as well, it might help reorient the world towards the use of renewable sources of energy.

The market associated with renewable energy sources is sky rocketing.In 2007, the solar and wind energies merely constituted 0.8% of the total power generated in the U.S., whereas the number has grown up to 8% since then.Sadly, the demand for such electricity tends to mismatch the supply of both solar and wind energy.For example, solar panels used in sunny California generate more energy than needed in the middle of the day, yet not at night - and this is when most workers and students return home and start using electricity.

Hoping to store excess energy and rebalance the state of affairs, some enterprises are beginning to install huge battery banks.Still, certain batteries of this type are not only expensive, but also only store energy that suffices to supply the network for a few hours at most.Storing energy by converting it to hydrogen fuel provides yet another option.Devices known as electrolyzers use electricity (best if coming from solar and wind energies) to split water into oxygen and hydrogen - a zero-emission fuel.In the next step, the other set of devices - being known as fuel cells - can convert the hydrogen back into electricity so that it becomes possible to supply cars, trucks and busses with power or transfer the electricity to the network. Still, commercial electrolyzers and fuel cells use different catalysts for the purpose of accelerating the reaction. This means that a single device is not capable of dealing with both said tasks at one time.In order to circumvent the problem, scientists have been experimenting with a newer fuel cell type that is called a proton conducting fuel cell (PCFC). The cell is capable of both making fuel and converting it back into electricity, whereas it only uses one set of catalysts.The use of renewable energy not only is the future but also provides companies willing to commercialise the technology of this kind with plenty of opportunities to prove themselves in the field.

Source: sciencemag.org

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