Tata funding research into converting sun power, water into fuel

In his quest to find environment-friendly fuel-efficient cars, Ratan Tata, head of Tata Motors, is financially supporting a Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) professor researching into using the power of sun and water to power homes as well as electric cars.

Speaking yesterday at a press conference convened by the Chemical Research Society of India in Bangalore, scientist C N R Rao said Tata has given $15 million to fund the ongoing research that is being conducted by MIT professor Daniel Nocera.

Nocera, listed in 2009 by Time Magazine as one of the world's 100 most influential people, has found a sustainable and clean way to use the sun's energy to split water molecules into hydrogen and oxygen gas, which can be stored and recombined in a fuel cell to get carbon-free electricity that can be used in homes as well as electric cars.

Photovoltaic energy derived from solar panels on roof of homes is fed into Nocera's newly discovered platinum-based catalyst called Sun Catalytix electrolyzer that converts the hydrogen molecules from a gallon of even dirty or salt water into hydrogen gas, which in turn can be recombined in a fuel cell to give the electricity needed to power homes and electric cars.

Currently, Nocera is using platinum for his Sun Catalytix electrolyzer to convert hydrogen molecules into hydrogen gas, but, in order to make it economically viable, Nocera has to find another material or metal that can used to replace the expensive platinum.

The $15 million has been infused by Tata into Nocera's start-up company, which plans to build a prototype of the entire system.