Rice University’s “artificial leaves” device converts water and sunlight into hydrogen fuel

Researchers from Rice University have created a simple new solar power plant that converts water and sunlight into hydrogen fuel. The system is very similar to other “artificial leaves” design, but the team says it is self-sufficient and has relatively low production costs.

The system consists of a peroxide solar cell, connected to an electrode made of a catalyst, to deconstruct hydrolysis. When sunlight hits a solar cell, it generates electricity that powers the catalyst and then divides the water into oxygen and hydrogen. These hydrogens can then be collected for use.

Sunlight is about 6.7% more efficient for hydrogen, which is relatively high for such systems. However, the team says the most useful feature is the self-sufficiency of the new design. Solar cells and electrodes are in one unit — solar modules are encased in a polymer shell that protects sunlight from water while allowing it to pass through. The researchers’ idea is that the device could basically be thrown into some direct sunlight water, allowing it to run for long periods of time and produce hydrogen as needed.

“With clever system design, you can potentially form a self-sustaining cycle,” said Jun Lou, lead author of the study. “Even when there is no sunlight, you can store energy in the form of chemical fuels. You can put the products of hydrogen and oxygen in different tanks, and then combine another module like a fuel cell to turn the fuel into electricity. “

The team says they have also adapted peroxide solar cells to the need for expensive components like platinum. Instead, these components were replaced with cheap elements such as carbon. This should reduce the cost of production of equipment and make it more feasible to commercialize production. In addition to hydrogen fuel, the “artificial leaves” design is also exploring ways to produce electricity, drugs, fertilizers, syngas and other useful compounds.

The new study was published in the journal ACS Nano.