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MIT makes solar energy breakthrough

Jul 31, 2008 - Christine McConville - McClatchy-Tribune Regional News

Researchers at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology say they've discovered a new way to store solar energy so that the non-polluting power can heat homes even when the sun isn't shining.

"This is the nirvana of what we've been talking about for years," said Daniel Nocera, the Henry Dreyfus Professor of Energy at MIT.

Nocera and Matthew Kanan, an MIT postdoctoral fellow, made the discovery, which has set the science and clean energy industries abuzz.

Amid the world's broadening energy crisis, scientists have been looking to the sun as a possible solution.

According to Nocera, in just one hour enough sunlight strikes the earth to provide the entire planet's energy needs for one year.

But until now, the sun has been a daytime-only energy source. Storing extra solar energy for later use has been prohibitively expensive.

Nocera and Kanan say they have found a way to use the sun's energy to split water into hydrogen and oxygen gases.

With this technique, the oxygen and hydrogen may be recombined inside a fuel cell to create carbon-free electricity, which may be used to heat a home or light up a building.