By some estimates, the amount of solar energy reaching the surface of the earth in one year is greater than the sum of all the energy we could ever produce using non-renewable resources. The technology necessary to convert sunlight into electricity has developed rapidly, but inefficiencies in the storage and distribution of that power have remained a significant problem, making solar energy impractical on a large scale. However, a breakthrough by researchers at UVA’s College and Graduate School of Arts & Sciences, the California Institute of Technology and the U.S. Department of Energy’s Argonne National Laboratory, Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory and Brookhaven National Laboratory could eliminate a critical obstacle from the process, a discovery that represents a giant stride toward a clean-energy future.

One way to harness solar energy is by using solar electricity to split water molecules into oxygen and hydrogen. The hydrogen…

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