Hydrogen Fuel Production Cost To Come Down With New Material

Chemical engineers have been working on finding a way to bring down the price of production of hydrogen fuel by developing cheaper solar semiconductors and making use of low-cost materials. In the recent research work done by scientists at the University of Wisconsin-Madison. Kyoung-Shin Choi, a chemistry professor and Tae Woo Kim a postdoctoral researcher from the University have together developed a new, inexpensive material that serves the purpose. They used a combination of oxide-based materials (iron oxide and nickel oxide) to split water into into hydrogen and oxygen gases using solar energy. Their results showed an efficiency of 1.7% which is the highest reported for any oxide-based photoelectrode system so far.

Using electrodeposition technique, they've developed solar cells from bismuth vanadate to increase the compound's surface area to 32 sq. mts. for each gram - a remarkable feat. They were able to create a nanoporous semiconductor of very tiny particles out of this without the use of high temperature or high pressure. Increase in surface area gives way for more contact area with water, which results in more efficient water splitting. Bismuth vanadate uses the paired catalysts to speed the reaction that produces fuel.

Photo by Bryce Richter
According to Choi, a lot of research is being done on developing photoelectric semiconductors or water-splitting catalysts, but not a lot of focus is given to the semiconductor-catalyst junction. The real challenge lies, not in developing the best semiconductor or catalyst, but in increasing the efficiency of the semiconductor-catalyst interface. Use of iron oxide which makes a good junction with bismuth vanadate, and the nickel oxide which makes a good catalytic interface with water in combination is the basis of their dual-layer catalyst design. enabled simultaneous optimization of semiconductor-catalyst junction and catalyst-water junction.

The team is right now working on proving the efficiency enhancement by nanoporous bismuth vanadate electrode and dual catalyst layers. Choi believes that this research work will help researchers around the globe with information to take a leap forward. Using this approach, we can expect to find which combinations of materials can make the system even more efficient. The university's research work is funded by the National Science Foundation and the team looks forward to tweaking the new cheaper material in their labs.

What do chemical engineers around have to say about that? Share with us in comments below.

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