Meteorite fragments could be used as a high performing catalyst to help store renewable energy cheaply and efficiently, according to Swiss scientists. Amy Pollock reports.
Renewable energy could get a helping hand from outer space in the future. Swiss scientists have found that prehistoric meteorite fragments from Namibia can be used to make high performing catalysts to help store energy from sources like wind or the sun. The team from the Swiss Federal Institute of Technology in Lausanne turned slices of the extraterrestial rock into electrodes to test its effectiveness as a catalyst. (SOUNDBITE) (English) FLORIAN LE FORMAL, RESEARCHER, EPFL, SAYING "After taking the different slices we remove the oxide that has formed during the cutting process, then stuck it on a glass piece for mechanical stability - and of course we also solder an electric wire and covered it with a non-reactive glue." They passed an electric current through the electrodes to split hydrogen from water molecules in a process called water oxidation. This generates hydrogen fuel which can be used to store energy. It's the unique composition of the meteorite that makes it so useful - especially its nickel and cobalt impurities. (SOUNDBITE) (English) FLORIAN LE FORMAL, RESEARCHER, EPFL, SAYING: "In this experiment we observed that the performance of the meteorite was improved while performing the chemical reaction, and that is mostly due to the fact that a very active layer, a very catalytic layer, was formed on the meteorite during the experiments." So the Gibeon meteorite could hold the key to making renewable energy a cheaper and more efficient option. (SOUNDBITE) (English) ASSISTANT PROFESSOR KEVIN SIVULA, EPFL, SAYING: "In an eventual future without fossil fuels we'll need some way to store renewable energy. So when it's very windy outside we can produce a lot of wind electricity via wind energy, but if we don't use that electricity right away then we lose it. So we need some way to store excess renewable electricity in some way." The researchers say the Gibeon meteorite demonstrates the potential for natural materials to be used as high performing electrocatalysts in the future.