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News Release 08-129

Water Refineries?

New method extracts oxygen from water with minimal energy, potentially boosting efforts to develop solar as a 24-hour energy source

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Photo shows the new, efficient oxygen catalyst in action in Dan Nocera's laboratory at MIT.

A snapshot showing the new, efficient oxygen catalyst in action in Dan Nocera's laboratory at MIT.

Credit: MIT/NSF

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Tony Chan, assistant director for NSF's Directorate for Mathematical & Physical Sciences, tells us why the new oxygen catalyst technique is what NSF is all about. This research produces a significant impact on society in one of our most important problems, sustainable energy.

Luis Echegoyen, director of NSF's Division of Chemistry, describes how the researchers achieved the holy grail of science, producing oxygen from water, a notoriously slow reaction. The experiment is simple and can be done in your kitchen sink. Just apply a electric potential in a neutral pH salty water solution. A thin film is produced on the surface of the catalyst that forms oxygen from water. The reaction is made truly accessible.

Credit: National Science Foundation


MIT's Matthew W. Kanan and Daniel G. Nocera explain how they recently discovered a catalyst that produces oxygen gas from water. Deposited on a conducting glass electrode, the catalyst made from the earth-abundant materials cobalt and phosphate produces oxygen gas from neutral pH water using a relatively low potential at room temperature and pressure. Although the catalytic reaction is not yet fully understood, its discovery moves the center one step closer to reaching its goal of using the sun's energy and water as a renewable energy source. The entire video is available at

Credit: Stephen E. Lyons, Chemical Explorers, Moreno/Lyons Productions