New Solar Breakthrough Has Wall Street Excited

This is one in a series of Green Tech updates to keep you informed of the many new innovations being produced by the cleantech sector every day. After all, technology and sustainability are inherently synergistic.

Fuel Cell Technology Gets a Boost

Part of the reason Solyndra went broke was a result of a stew of industry successes. In many ways, DOE funding has been like a supercharger for what is already a highly dynamic, and innovative sector. What is success without failure? After all, even Texas oil barons drilled hundreds of wells before hitting it big at Spindletop. One door closes, ten doors open – although sometimes they may lead to unexpected places.

The latest of these promising leads is a new solar hydrogen fuel cell technology that directly addresses, and purports to solve, one of the biggest stumbling blocks for fuel cell technology – price. While promising, fuel cells have never enjoyed the mainstream market success of hydroelectric, wind, and solar. Hydrogen is one of the most abundant elements on the planet. However, in and of itself, it is merely a carrier of energy more akin to a battery. Since pure hydrogen is not found in nature, energy must be used to separate it from other elements and molecules through steam reforming natural gas, or electrolysis. By far the most costly component of fuel cells are the platinum electrodes that split hydrogen atoms off of other molecules for fuel.

HyperSolar, however, has filed a patent on a new process for developing the hydrogen fuel cells which could dramatically lower prices. All it takes is sunlight, and any source of water, to produce hydrogen fuel.

The importance here is twofold: first, widely accessible and incredibly cheap hydrogen fuel would make fuel cell technology affordable. Second, most hydrogen used in fuel cells are actually a byproduct of incredibly dirty industrial processes (i.e. bulk natural gas reformation). Currently, 90 to 95 percent of pure hydrogen fuel is produced from fossil fuels. HyperSolar’s technology would make hydrogen fuel cells renewable from start to finish. The company’s photocatalytic water splitting technique is an efficient, low-cost alternative to using platinum-coated electrodes.

Let the Sun Shine Through!

Living up to the company name, HyperSolar is also responsible for advances in solar photovoltaic panel technology. Thanks to HyperSolar’s prolific work in renewable energy research and development, the company’s stocks have surged. For every failed renewable venture like Solyndra, there are many more success stories. The truth is, solar skeptics are likely to get a rude awakening as years of development in the renewable sector begin to payoff in the form of new, innovative technologies.

To put the meteoric trajectory of renewable technology in context, consider that fracking technology, the supposed savior of the fossil fuel industry, was actually a U.S. Department of Energy-backed initiative from the late 1970’s and early 1980’s. It took three decades for the technology to become financially feasible. Who is responsible for the timely shale gas boom that has delayed the inexorable rise of fossil fuel costs? The federal government. Unlike the private sector which is concerned mainly with pleasing shareholders and immediate profit margins, the Department of Energy adopts long-game strategies, such as investing in shale gas extraction research more than thirty years ago. What does the Department of Energy believe is the future of energy? Renewables, with other traditional energy sources taking on less and less important roles as time progresses.

The renewable energy sector, part of a flourishing new “green economy”, is a highly dynamic and rapidly expanding industry with great potential – something even Wall Street can get excited about.