Email Print Share

"Break Water" -- The Discovery Files

The Discovery Files
Audio Play Audio
The Discovery Files podcast is available through iTunes or you can add the RSS feed to your podcast receiver. You can also access the series via AudioNow® by calling 641-552-8180 on any telephone.

In a major leap that could transform solar power from a marginal energy source into a mainstream energy source, MIT researchers have overcome a major barrier to large-scale solar power: storing energy for use when the sun doesn't shine. Until now, solar power has been a daytime-only energy source, because storing extra solar energy for later use is prohibitively expensive and grossly inefficient. MIT researchers have hit upon a simple, inexpensive, highly efficient process for storing solar energy.

Credit: NSF/Karson Productions

Audio Transcript:

The Next Best Thing to Bottled Sunshine. (SOUND EFFECT: cork pops!)

I'm Bob Karson with the discovery files -- new advances in science and engineering from the National Science Foundation.

Our energy future may have just gotten a major surge (SOUND EFFECT: electrical surge sound) with the discovery of a new, amazingly simple process out of MIT. It's about a catalyst that's causing quite a reaction.

MIT chemist Daniel Nocera:

(Nocera): "...There's a lesson to be learned from nature -- there's all those little green things out there called leaves on plants. They store energy all the time, because they need to live when the sun's not out. And the way they do they do it in photosynthesis. Photosynthesis works directly on water -- takes the light, converts it, it takes water, rearranges the bonds of water and stores it in hydrogen and oxygen. The biggest part of energy storage is in water-splitting. So that's the lesson we learned and what our discovery is, is we figured out how to split water into hydrogen and oxygen and what's special is you can do it in a glass of water at atmospheric pressures and room temperature."

Nocera foresees a world where your house is your power plant:

(Nocera): " have a solar panel on your house -- the sun comes in. Now, with our catalyst, you can make hydrogen and oxygen. So when the sun goes down, you can then take the hydrogen and oxygen, re-combine them in a fuel cell -- and then you get electricity out. That's how the world's gonna look -- in my opinion that would be the best way to use my discovery."

Catchin' some rays, for the discovery files, I'm Bob Karson.

"The Discovery Files" covers projects funded by the government's National Science Foundation. Federally sponsored research -- brought to you, by you! Learn more at or on our podcast.

General Restrictions:
Images and other media in the National Science Foundation Multimedia Gallery are available for use in print and electronic material by NSF employees, members of the media, university staff, teachers and the general public. All media in the gallery are intended for personal, educational and nonprofit/non-commercial use only.

Images credited to the National Science Foundation, a federal agency, are in the public domain. The images were created by employees of the United States Government as part of their official duties or prepared by contractors as "works for hire" for NSF. You may freely use NSF-credited images and, at your discretion, credit NSF with a "Courtesy: National Science Foundation" notation. Additional information about general usage can be found in Conditions.

MP3 icon
NSF podcasts are in mp3 format for easy download to desktop and laptops, as well as mobile devices capable of playing them.