Tag Archives: light

Harvesting Clean Hydrogen Fuel Through Artificial Photosynthesis

A new, stable artificial photosynthesis device doubles the efficiency of harnessing sunlight to break apart both fresh and salt water, generating hydrogen that can then be used in fuel cells.

The device could also be reconfigured to turn carbon dioxide back into fuel.

Hydrogen is the cleanest-burning fuel, with water as its only emission. But hydrogen production is not always environmentally friendly. Conventional methods require natural gas or electrical power. The method advanced by the new device, called direct solar water splitting, only uses water and light from the sun.

If we can directly store solar energy as a chemical fuel, like what nature does with photosynthesis, we could solve a fundamental challenge of renewable energy,” said Zetian Mi, a professor of electrical and computer engineering at the University of Michigan who led the research while at McGill University in Montreal.

Faqrul Alam Chowdhury, a doctoral student in electrical and computer engineering at McGill, said the problem with solar cells is that they cannot store electricity without batteries, which have a high overall cost and limited life.

The device is made from the same widely used materials as solar cells and other electronics, including silicon and gallium nitride (often found in LEDs). With an industry-ready design that operates with just sunlight and seawater, the device paves the way for large-scale production of clean hydrogen fuel.

Previous direct solar water splitters have achieved a little more than 1 percent stable solar-to-hydrogen efficiency in fresh or saltwater. Other approaches suffer from the use of costly, inefficient or unstable materials, such as titanium dioxide, that also might involve adding highly acidic solutions to reach higher efficiencies. Mi and his team, however, achieved more than 3 percent solar-to-hydrogen efficiency.

Source: https://news.umich.edu/

Perovskite Solar Cells One Giant Step Closer To The Market

Harnessing energy from the sun, which emits immensely powerful energy from the center of the solar system, is one of the key targets for achieving a sustainable energy supplyLight energy can be converted directly into electricity using electrical devices called solar cells. To date, most solar cells are made of silicon, a material that is very good at absorbing light. But silicon panels are expensive to produce.

Scientists have been working on an alternative, made from perovskite structures. True perovskite, a mineral found in the earth, is composed of calcium, titanium and oxygen in a specific molecular arrangement. Materials with that same crystal structure are called perovskite structuresPerovskite structures work well as the light-harvesting active layer of a solar cell because they absorb light efficiently but are much cheaper than silicon. They can also be integrated into devices using relatively simple equipment. For instance, they can be dissolved in solvent and spray coated directly onto the substrate.

Materials made from perovskite structures could potentially revolutionize solar cell devices, but they have a severe drawback: they are often very unstable, deteriorating on exposure to heat. This has hindered their commercial potential. The Energy Materials and Surface Sciences Unit at the Okinawa Institute of Science and Technology Graduate University (OIST), led by Prof. Yabing Qi, has developed devices using a new perovskite material that is stable, efficient and relatively cheap to produce, paving the way for their use in the solar cells of tomorrow. This material has several key features:

  • First, it is completely inorganic – an important shift, because organic components are usually not thermostable and degrade under heat. Since solar cells can get very hot in the sun, heat stability is crucial. By replacing the organic parts with inorganic materials, the researchers made the perovskite solar cells much more stable..  “The solar cells are almost unchanged after exposure to light for 300 hours,” says Dr. Zonghao Liu, an author on the paper.
  • Second feature: Inorganic perovskite solar cells tend to have lower light absorption than organic-inorganic hybrids, however, but the OIST researchers doped their new cells with manganese in order to improve their performance. Manganese changes the crystal structure of the material, boosting its light harvesting capacity.  “Just like when you add salt to a dish to change its flavor, when we add manganese, it changes the properties of the solar cell,” says Liu.
  • Thirdly, in these solar cells, the electrodes that transport current between the solar cells and external wires are made of carbon, rather than of the usual gold. Such electrodes are significantly cheaper and easier to produce, in part because they can be printed directly onto the solar cells. Fabricating gold electrodes, on the other hand, requires high temperatures and specialist equipment such as a vacuum chamber.

The findings are published in Advanced Energy Materials. Postdoctoral scholars Dr. Jia Liang and Dr. Zonghao Liu made major contributions to this work.

Source: https://www.oist.jp/

How Solar Cells Absorb 20 % More Sunlight

Trapping light with an optical version of a whispering gallery, researchers at the National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST) have developed a nanoscale coating for solar cells that enables them to absorb about 20 percent more sunlight than uncoated devices. The coating, applied with a technique that could be incorporated into manufacturing, opens a new path for developing low-cost, high-efficiency solar cells with abundant, renewable and environmentally friendly materials.

Illustration shows the nanoresonator coating, consisting of thousands of tiny glass beads, deposited on solar cells. The coating enhances both the absorption of sunlight and the amount of current produced by the solar cells

The coating consists of thousands of tiny glass beads, only about one-hundredth the width of a human hair. When sunlight hits the coating, the light waves are steered around the nanoscale bead, similar to the way sound waves travel around a curved wall such as the dome in St. Paul’s Cathedral in London. At such curved structures, known as acoustic whispering galleries, a person standing near one part of the wall easily hears a faint sound originating at any other part of the wall.

Using a laser as a light source to excite individual nanoresonators in the coating, the team found that the coated solar cells absorbed, on average, 20 percent more visible light than bare cells. The measurements also revealed that the coated cells produced about 20 percent more current.

Source: https://www.nist.gov/