When the going gets weird, the weird turn pro. - Hunter S. Thompson

01 August 2008

Has MIT invented the Shipstone?

This is cool:
MIT is in a twisted, propeller-capped knot this morning heralding a new discovery it says will unleash a solar revolution. However, the "revolutionary leap" inspired by photosynthesis is not on the glamorous front-end of energy collection, rather, it's related to a simple, highly efficient and inexpensive way to store that energy when the sun doesn't shine. "This is the nirvana of what we've been talking about for years," says Daniel Nocera, MIT neomaxizoomdweebie who with Matthew Kanan developed the unprecedented approach to split water into hydrogen and oxygen gases using the sun's energy. The gases can then be recombined later inside a fuel cell. The key components to the process are a pair of catalysts (one consists of cobalt metal, phosphate, and an electrode; the other, platinum) which produce the O and H gases at room temperature and in neutral pH water (i.e., tap water). While similar solutions exist for industrial use (primarily), these are very expensive and require specialized environments.

"This is a major discovery with enormous implications for the future prosperity of humankind," said James Barber, a leader in the study of photosynthesis at Imperial College in London. "The importance of their discovery cannot be overstated since it opens up the door for developing new technologies for energy production thus reducing our dependence for fossil fuels and addressing the global climate change problem." Nocera concedes that further engineering is required to commercialize the approach but hopes to see it implemented in household fuel cell systems within the next 10 years.
Video: MIT develops solar storage nirvana (Engadget)

As for the Shipstone reference in the post's title... Heinlein fans will know what I'm talking about; for the few regular visitors who aren't members of the intersection of the sets "enrevanche readers" and "classic sci-fi fans," let me explain:
1. Common power source. It involved intensive solar collection and energy storage but was not otherwise described. It apparently replaced almost all other sources of energy. The name also applied to the conglomerate that apparently owned most of the corporations on and off Earth, including Daniel Shipstone Estate, Inc.; Muriel Shipstone Memorial Research Laboratories; Shipstone Tempe, Gobi, Aden, Sahara, Africa, Death Valley, Karroo, Never-Never, Ell-Four, Ell-Five, Stationary, Tycho, Ares, DeepWater, Unlimited, and Ltd.; Sears-Montgomery, Inc.; Prometheus Foundation; Coca-Cola Holding Co.; Intraworld Transport Corp.; Jack and the Beanstalk, Pty.; Morgan Associates; Out-Systems Colonial Corporation; Billy Shipstone School for Handicapped Children; Wolf Creek Pass Nature Preserve; Año Nuevo Wild Life Refuge; and Shipstone Visual Arts Museum and School. In effect, Shipstone controlled the entire economy. A feud among different factions resulted in the overthrow and disruption of many Earth governments, particularly in North America.
RAH was clearly having some fun with the concept, imagining the industrial behemoth - a combination of GE and the oil companies - that would result from a revolutionary battery technology. Not much of a leap here to think that hydrogen to power fuel cells, made from water and sunlight, could have a similar impact.

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