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Start-up plants new idea: Mimic photosynthesis to solve problem of intermittent solar power

Start-up Sun Catalytix seeks to create innovative means of "storing" solar energy.
Written by Heather Clancy, Contributor

One of the biggest ongoing problems surrounding development of alternative and renewable energy projects is the intermittent nature of many of these energy sources. The sun doesn't always shine, the wind doesn't always blow, the seas are sometimes calmer than you'd like.

That's the puzzle that green-tech start-up Sun Catalytix hopes to solve. Backed by Polaris Venture Partners, the company is an early stage startup that boasts Ethernet innovator and 3Com founder Bob Metcalfe as one of its directors. The Sun Catalytix proposition is pretty simple: to offer an efficient means of energy storage.

Its technology is built on the same principle as photosynthesis (were you paying attention in biology?) by focusing on a catalyst material that will use solar energy to break down water into its core components of oxygen and hydrogen, turning the hydrogen component into an energy source that could power a fuel cell. Earlier this fall, Sun Catalytix was one of 37 companies to receive research funding from ARPA-E, an arm of the Department of Energy focused on advanced energy research. The award is worth roughly $4.1 million, according to the agency's press release.

Metcalfe says Sun Catalytix' founder Dan Nocera, who is a professor of chemistry at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, is focusing on three essentially commercial ideas:

  1. Hydrogen that could be used by a fuel cell in your house
  2. Hydrogen that could fuel your automobile
  3. The creation of fresh clean water

"A plant converts hydrogen into useful chemicals, in particular those that keep it alive," Metcalfe observers.

During the first quarter of 2010, Metcalfe says Sun Catalytix will be on the hunt for a Series A round from other venture capitalists. It will also be seeking a CEO to take it to the next stage of its development, as well as other executives to round out its management team and technology partners that could help commercialize its ideas.

Here's a link with all sorts of scholarly resources that better explain Sun Catalytix foundation technology.

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