Two researchers at the University of Calgary report 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 at the university.
“Our work represents a critical step for realising a large-scale, clean energy economy,” he added.
Simon Trudel, assistant professor of chemistry, said the discovery “opens up a whole new field of how to make catalytic materials. We now have a large new arena for discovery.”
The two researchers have created a company to commercialize their electrocatalysts for use in electrolysers.
Electrolyzers use catalysts to create a chemical reaction that converts electricity into energy by splitting water into hydrogen and oxygen, which can then be stored and reconverted to electricity for use whenever needed.
Catalysts are typically made from rare and expensive metals in a crystalline structure.
However Berlinguette and Trudel deviated from this principle by using common metal compounds or oxides, such as rust, which achieved the same results as more expensive metals.
The researchers expect to have a commercial product in the market by 2014, with a prototype electrolyser designed to provide a family home’s energy needs ready for testing by 2015.