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SOLAR DAILY
Solar hydrogen production by artificial leafs
by Staff Writers
Berlin, Germany (SPX) Aug 29, 2017


Metal oxides are promising candidates for cheap and stable photoelectrodes for solar water splitting, producing hydrogen with sunlight. Unfortunately, metal oxides are not highly efficient in this job. A known remedy is a treatment with heat and hydrogen. An international collaboration has now discovered why this treatment works so well, paving the way to more efficient and cheap devices for solar hydrogen production.

The fossil fuel age is bound to end, for several strong reasons. As an alternative to fossil fuels, hydrogen seems very attractive. The gas has a huge energy density, it can be stored or processed further, e. g. to methane, or directly provide clean electricity via a fuel cell. If it is produced using sunlight alone, hydrogen is completely renewable with zero carbon emissions.

Similar to a process in natural photosynthesis, sunlight can also be used in "artificial leafs" to split water into oxygen and hydrogen. Artificial leafs combine photoactive semiconducting materials and can reach efficiencies beyond 15 %. However, those record efficiencies were obtained using expensive systems, which also tend to decompose in aqueous solutions. For successful commercialization costs need to go down and stability needs to increase.

Complex metal oxide semiconductors are good candidates for artificial leafs since they are relatively cheap and stable in aqueous solutions. Scientists from HZB-Institute for Solar Fuels focus their research on these materials. Until now, photoelectrodes based on metal oxides have shown moderate efficiencies (only < 8 %).

One reason is their poor charge carrier (electron and/or hole) mobility, which is up to 100.000 times lower than in classical semiconductors such as gallium arsenide or silicon. "What is worse is the fact that charge carriers in metal oxides often have really short life spans of nanoseconds or even picoseconds. Many of them disappear before they can contribute to water splitting", Dr. Fatwa Abdi, expert at HZB-Institute for Solar Fuels points out.

One option to overcome this limitation is a heat treatment under hydrogen atmosphere of the metal oxide layers after deposition. Fatwa Abdi and his colleagues have now investigated how this treatment influences life spans, transport properties and defects in one of the most promising metal oxide photoelectrodes, bismuth vanadate (BiVO4).

Time-resolved conductivity measurements revealed that electrons and holes live more than twice as long in the bulk of the hydrogen-treated BiVO4 as compared to the pristine BiVO4. As a result, the overall photocurrent under sunlight is largely improved. Further measurements at Dresden and theoretical calculations by KAUST-colleagues in Saudi Arabia provided evidence that the presence of hydrogen in the metal oxide reduces or deactivates point defects in the bulk of BiVO4.

"Our results show that hydrogen treatment leads to less traps for charge carriers and less opportunities to recombine or getting lost. So more charge carriers survive for longer and may contribute to water splitting", Abdi explains.

The results have been published in Advanced Energy Materials (August, 25th 2017): Enhancing Charge Carrier Lifetime in Metal Oxide Photoelectrodes through Mild Hydrogen Treatment (DOI: 10.1002/aenm.201701536) Ji-Wook Jang, Dennis Friedrich, Sonke Muller, Marlene Lamers, Hannes Hempel, Sheikha Lardhi, Zhen Cao, Moussab Harb, Luigi Cavallo, Rene Heller, Rainer Eichberger, Roel van de Krol, and Fatwa F. Abdi*

SOLAR DAILY
How 139 countries could be powered by 100 percent wind, water, and solar energy by 2050
Washington DC (SPX) Aug 28, 2017
The latest roadmap to a 100% renewable energy future from Stanford's Mark Z. Jacobson and 26 colleagues is the most specific global vision yet, outlining infrastructure changes that 139 countries can make to be entirely powered by wind, water, and sunlight by 2050 after electrification of all energy sectors. Such a transition could mean less worldwide energy consumption due to the efficien ... read more

Related Links
Helmholtz-Zentrum Berlin fur Materialien und Energie
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