Energy storage breakthrough relies on rust


Canadian researchers have developed a ground-breaking method that may ultimately allow excess energy generated by wind turbines and solar panels to be stored for later use.

Two researchers at the University of Calgary reported in the journal Science that they have invented a relatively inexpensive way of using rust to act as a catalyst for capturing energy through the electrolysis of water.

“This breakthrough offers a relatively cheaper method of storing and reusing electricity produced by wind turbines and solar panels,” said Curtis Berlinguette, associate professor of chemistry.

Simon Trudel, assistant professor of chemistry, said the discovery “opens up a whole new field of how to make catalytic materials.”

The two have created a company to commercialize their electrocatalysts for use in electrolyzers to start a chemical reaction that converts electricity into energy by splitting water into hydrogen and oxygen, which can then be stored and reconverted to electricity when needed. Catalysts are typically made from rare and expensive metals in a crystalline structure. Berlinguette and Trudel used common metal compounds or oxides, such as rust, which achieved the same results as the metals.

The researchers expect to have a commercial product on the market by 2014, with a prototype electrolyzer designed to supply the energy needs of an average household ready for testing by 2015.