Inspenet, October 10, 2023.
Scientists at the University of Tübingen in Germany have introduced a novel solar cell that features remarkably high efficiency and offers the ability to produce hydrogen in a decentralized manner, with promising potential for large-scale industrial applications.
Hydrogen generated from the water electrolysis process using renewable energy sources is known as “green hydrogen” due to its environmentally friendly production. In the context of water splitting using solar energy, which is commonly known as artificial photosynthesis, hydrogen is produced using this type of energy.
The research team, led by Dr. Matthias May from the university’s Institute of Physical and Theoretical Chemistry, has designed a solar cell that plays an essential role in the photoelectrochemical process, interacting directly with the catalysts responsible for water splitting. The particularity of this cell is that an additional external circuit is no longer required, such as a photovoltaic solar panel.
What makes this solar cell different?
This innovative approach brings notable benefits by making the technology more compact, flexible and potentially more cost-effective. However, this design places more stringent requirements on the solar cell. According to May, “within the research community in this field, achieving stable and efficient photoelectrochemical or direct water splitting is considered a highly desired goal.“
The distinctive feature of the solar cell structure lies in its ability to exert a high degree of control over the interfaces between the various materials involved. So surface structures are manufactured and evaluated on an extremely small scale.
“Corrosion, and therefore the long-term stability of the solar cell in water, remains the biggest challenge. In this sense, we have made great progress compared to our previous works.” adds Dr. May.
The technical design of this new cell is characterized by its exceptional innovation and efficiency. Cell efficiency, which represents the percentage of energy from sunlight that can be converted into usable energy in the form of hydrogen (heating value), has reached a remarkable 18%. This achievement marks the second highest value recorded to date for direct solar water splitting.
Next steps involve improving the long-term stability of the technology, transitioning to a more cost-effective silicon-based materials system, and expanding its application to broader surface areas.
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