Monday, October 18, 2021

Why would you move a solar-powered home?


Two Michigan grads have decided to move their 660-square-foot solar-powered home about 175 miles north of Ann Arbor to the town of Evart, Michigan, the Detroit Free Press reports.

Lisa and Matt Gunneson are from Grand Rapids, where the weather on nine of the past 10 days has been overcast, but they both attended the University of Michigan, Ann Arbor. They had their first date at the Matthaei Botanical Gardens, where the one-bedroom aluminum-frame house was built, and were even married in the gardens in 2015.

So, when they heard the house was being sold, they decided to put in a bid and later found out they had won the auction.

If only we could bottle summer sunshine

The Gunnesons’ simple, self-sufficient home comes with solar panels that don’t need to be updated and a battery storage system. Sunshine is still required, though, which will probably be better in Evart than it is in Grand Rapids, if this last week is any indication.

We haven’t really figured out how to save solar energy for those rainy days, though, in part because we don’t have an efficient way to store the energy. But we’re working on it, researchers at the Department of Energy’s Pacific Northwest National Laboratory say in a news release.

Nature stores energy in chemical bonds, like when plants photosynthesize our food. What PNNL researchers are trying to do is design catalysts, based on inexpensive metals, to store energy the same way nature does. Their latest research is published in the chemistry journal Angewandte Chemie International Edition.

The chemical bonds in hydrogen gas, for example, could power fuel cells, internal combustion engines, or generators. Using a natural catalyst from bacteria for inspiration, researchers have developed the fastest synthetic catalyst for hydrogen production—producing 45 million molecules per second. Instead of a costly metal, this catalyst uses inexpensive, abundant nickel at its busy core.

Although the catalyst requires more energy to run than a conventional platinum catalyst, the insight garnered from this result might eventually help make hydrogen fuel in an environmentally friendly, affordable way.

“The next thing we’ll work on is making it more efficient,” said chemist Molly O’Hagan at the PNNL. “We still have to feed it too much electricity to produce the hydrogen.”

The team has been developing a nickel-based catalyst modeled on an enzyme from nature called a hydrogenase for several years. Back in 2011, working in the Center for Molecular Electrocatalysis, a DOE facility, they made a synthetic catalyst that was 10 times faster than the natural one. That natural one clocked in at 100,000 hydrogen molecules per second.

As they worked on the catalyst, scientists tested it in reactions by combining it with acids in different media. One thing they noticed was that the synthetic catalyst produced hydrogen faster in a viscous liquid as opposed to a free-flowing liquid.

“We used this medium that was like pancake syrup and saw very fast rates,” said O’Hagan. “The catalyst has arms that move around to position the pieces of the chemical reaction. Normally they are flopping around like crazy and the pieces don’t always hit the right target. When this happens, the arms can actually get stuck in a position where the catalyst can’t put the pieces together at all. We thought that this thick syrup might be slowing down the flopping, letting the arms put the pieces together more efficiently.”

To test this hypothesis, the team designed the catalyst to have longer arms that would drag and slow down the flopping. They tested different arm lengths and found the longer the arms, the faster the catalyst produced hydrogen molecules.

They also measured how fast the arms were swinging around. The longer the arms, the slower the movement, allowing them to attribute the faster hydrogen production to the slower arm movements. Like excited children playing catch, calming down a bit lets them hit their mark more often.

“This work gave us some insight into the movement of the catalyst, and how to control that movement to make it more efficient,” said O’Hagan.

Press Release
This information was provided in a press release.

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