Atanu Dey On India's Development

Producing Energy out of Thin Air

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As I am wont to do, I pick up newspapers while travelling. It is not good for my mental health but what can I do — sometimes newspapers hold the sort of fascination for me that rubberneckers have for gruesome road accidents. An item in yesterday’s Times of India (ok, ok, bad move I know) caught my eye: “Just a bottle of water can power your home.

Just a bottle of water powering my home? That’s amazing. I have lots of water at home. OK, tell me more, I said. I continued reading. Fascinating stuff.

It appears that all you need is a bottle of water, to power your home if you live in the average house in a developing country. A bottle of water and a bit more: a 30-square meter of photovoltaic cells, four hours of sunlight, a tank to store the hydrogen that is produced by using the electricity from the photovoltaic cells to split the water into oxygen and hydrogen, a fuel cell to use the hydrogen to as fuel and combine it with oxygen to produce the electricity for powering your home. And all this from a bottle of water! Amazing!!

(The cunning plan is to use the hydrogen to power the fuel cells and to liquify the oxygen for Ajit to use for his diabolical schemes.)

Now I understood the miracle of it all. Inspired by that I wrote to the Times of India. I wrote, “Just some air is all you need to move about the city.” I explained that all you need is air, and then you mix some fuel with it, and put an electric spark into the air fuel mixture, and do this controlled explosion in an internal combustion engine, and voila! you have air powering your transportation. All you need is petroleum fuel, an internal combustion engine, the rest of the car and that’s it.

(The Times of India article quote appears at the end of this post.)

Retardedness is manifested in all human endeavours. Stupidity is a common human condition. No one, present company not excepted, is immune from it. But for real USDA Grade AAA retardedness it is hard to beat the Times of India.

The Times of India reports stupid stuff like it is going out of fashion.

How does one then explain the popularity of that rag? I suppose stupidity sells. Stupidity mixed with pictures of scantily clad white females. That’s clearly an explosively popular combination. Like combining hydrogen and oxygen.

With one bottle of drinking water and four hours of sunlight, an MIT scientist says he can produce 30 KWh of electricity — enough to power an entire household in the developing world.

With three gallons of river water, Dan Nocera says he could satisfy the daily energy needs of a large American home. The key to these claims is a new, affordable catalyst that uses solar electricity to split water and generate hydrogen. reports physorg.com.

Using the electricity generated from a 30-square-meter photovoltaic array, Nocera’s cobalt-phosphate catalyst converts water and carbon dioxide into hydrogen and oxygen. The process is similar to photosynthesis, except that in nature, plants create energy in the form of sugars instead of hydrogen.

The hydrogen produced through artificial photosynthesis can be stored in a tank and later used to produce electricity by being recombined with oxygen in a fuel cell, even when the sun isn’t shining. Alternatively, the hydrogen can be converted into a liquid fuel. “Almost all the solar energy is stored in water splitting”, Nocera said at the first-ever ARPA-E (Advanced Research Projects Agency-Energy) conference last Tuesday. “We emulated photosynthesis for largescale storage of solar energy.”

The retards who wrote that do not understand the distinction between an energy source (petroleum, etc) and the working fluid (water in the case of steam engines, air in the case of internal combustion engines, etc.)

  • Oldtimer

    They weren’t this retarded till a few months ago. Then they got started on the Aman Ki Asha act, and more retards got on board.

  • http://thenitknumbskulls.wordpress.com wanderlust

    died laughing. awesome.

  • Sundried Atheist

    I feel TOI might soon be taking over the pornographic industry. It sucks though, because I am dead against monopolies of any kind.

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  • http://ketanpanchal.blogspot.com/ Ketan

    Somehow reporting of science, technology and medicine related news has always been shoddy in India.

    These people should hire those with at least some knowledge in science/technology/medicine.

    In all likelihood, the article must have been reproduced as-is either from the internet or some other source, since the research was done in the US.

    What’s worse is that those in ToI are not retards, but they don’t mind or sometimes deliberately stoop to those levels.

    Consistently retarded but conscientiously honest journos who could report facts would be preferred to this lot of scheming news-mongers!

    I think many people buy ToI only because of force of habit. So many people I know live with this feeling that if it’s written in newspapers/textbooks/shown on TV it must be true!

    This intellectual passivity has to go.

  • http://zoho.com/ Aravind

    lol. most of the articles in TOI are either syndicated or copied from elsewhere, mostly from the web. the article you quote has its origins in SciAm.

    Mar 3, 2010 – http://www.scientificamerican.com/blog/post.cfm?id=shift-happens-will-artificial-photo-2010-03-03.

    Aug 1, 2008 – http://www.scientificamerican.com/podcast/episode.cfm?id=7E5D4FD8-FC46-CEEA-89BEA7C1DC65E2F5

    Jul 31, 2008 – http://www.scientificamerican.com/article.cfm?id=hydrogen-power-on-the-cheap

    Hmm, you too SciAm?

  • Anjali

    What this scientist claims doesn’t add up either. According to “http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Sunlight”, the total sunlight energy incident per square metre on earth is 120 watts max.

    120 watts x 4 hrs x 30 square metres = 14400 watt hour = 14 KWh.

    This machine seems to be having more than 200% efficiency.

  • http://ketanpanchal.blogspot.com/ Ketan

    A lot less retarded discussion of the news, here:

    http://www.physorg.com/news187031401.html

  • anup

    A little off topic but speaking of ToI and their Aman ki Asha project, I want to draw your attention to ToI’s efforts at encouraging cross border matrimonials through advertisements that are interesting titled LOC (Love over Country not Line of Control). A sample of this can be seen here http://besigns.blogspot.com/2010/01/aman-ki-asha.html

    My conspiracy theory is that this is a means of recruitment of jihadis…

  • yogesh

    You know what u r talking about is true, I mean nothing can be powered only by water. But i think that u concentrated only on the headline there like all others do. U see the people at Times r aware of that. The internal combustion engine had an efficiency of only 40% but by adding small additions like fins, better cooling systems now it can be upto 60 even above. Small additions to existing discoveries could be a big thing.

  • Niket

    A few points I would like to add:

    1. Dan Nocera is no charlatan. He is one of the leading scientists when it comes to photovoltaics. Nocera’s group is one of the few ones in the world which understands the issues in tapping the solar energy.

    2. Splitting water is not the only way to tap solar energy. Earlier this month, Nate Lewis and Harry Atwater were successful in developing solar cells with the highest efficiency demonstrated so far.

    3. Anjali’s numbers are wrong by one order of magnitude. The peak solar intensity is about 1.1 KW/sq m. Assuming other calculations are correct, that gives efficiency of 20%, not 200%. Actually, I think the actual efficiency hovers around 18%.

    4. The problem here is not with research (which is top-notch), but with dissemination in lay man’s terms. Add to the fact that it was copied by clueless journalists at ToI.

    Hope this clears some confusion.

    - Niket

    (PS: I have personally not read stuff I quoted above closely. I just glanced through it.)

  • Niket

    Oh and I forgot to mention: So far, the efficiency were either too low or some “sacrificial material” was needed to improve the efficiency.

    Dan Nocera’s comments are in that context. With elimination of the sacrificial material, all you need to do is add water and you will get decent amount of hydrogen.

    The challenge is the cost. This stuff is expensive! But at least the running cost is only marginal. The capital cost is not.

  • Bean

    lol! Keep ‘em coming!

  • Amar

    See I don’t think The Times of India news snippet mentioned is non sense. It has been implemented in New Jersy by a guy. Check this out.

    http://www.ieee.tv/ieeetv-specials/energy-innovations-hydrogen-house

    The future of energy is hydrogen and nothing else. The initial investment is the only cost what is needed to be borne by the customer.

    Really energy efficient and cleaner!

    Cheers

    Amar

    • http://www.deeshaa.org Atanu Dey

      Hydrogen can be used as an energy source. But it is like a battery. First you put energy in and then you get back a part of that energy you put in.

      The TOI article is wrong to claim that water is the source of energy.

  • Jagadish

    The ToI was a readable paper 20 years ago. Today, it’s tabloid trash with irresponsible and often incorrect reporting.