Hydrogen gas and methanol are used widely in industries as raw materials as well as in fuel cells. Today they are produced mainly from fossil sources such as oil and natural gas.
A new study by researchers from Uppsala University, published in Nature Communications, shows that these raw materials can be produced sustainably using sunlight. The researchers have developed a new coating material for semiconductors that can produce fuels in processes that combine direct sunlight with electricity, promising exciting opportunities.
According to Sascha Ott, Professor at the Department of Chemistry, Uppsala University, “We’ve moved a step closer to our goal of producing the fuel of the future from sunlight.”
A more sustainable and environmentally friendly option is to generate hydrogen using electrolyzers. Water is split into hydrogen and oxygen using an electric current in an electrolyzer. This process has a zero carbon footprint when the electricity used comes from renewable sources.
The new material created by the researchers reduces the voltage needed in the electrolyzer by using sunlight to supplement the electricity. In this method, sunlight is captured using the same type of semiconductors found in solar cells covered with the new material. When the sun shines on the semiconductor, the new coating extracts the electrons, which can be used in the production of fuels.
The new coating is a Metal-Organic Framework (MOF), which are crystalline porous solids composed of a three-dimensional network of metal ions held in place by organic linker molecules.
These molecules capture and remove the electrons generated on the semiconductor’s surface, preventing a short circuit. In other words, it promotes an efficient collection of electrons.
Tests showed the new design greatly reduces the voltage required to extract electrons from the semiconductor.
According to Sascha Ott, their innovative coatings can be used to improve semiconductor performance, leading to a more energy-efficient generation of fuels with lower electrical input requirements.
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