September 14, 2015

New way to store solar energy could lead to more common solar cell usage

A working cell from Switzer’s research, with gas evolution.
Photo by Sam O’Keefe, Missouri S&T.

(September 14, 2015)  Researchers at Missouri University of Science and Technology have developed a relatively inexpensive and simple way to split water into hydrogen and oxygen through a new electrodeposition method. The method produces highly efficient solar cells that can gather solar energy for use as fuel.

The research, sponsored by the U.S. Department of Energy, could lead to a sizable increase in the amount of hydrogen available for fuel usage.

The Missouri S&T researchers describe their full method in a paper published today (Monday, Sept. 14, 2015) on the website of the journal “Nature Materials.”

“The work helps to solve the problem that solar energy is intermittent,” says Dr. Jay A. Switzer, the Donald L. Castleman/Foundation for Chemical Research Professor of Discovery at Missouri S&T. “Obviously, we cannot have the sun produce energy on one spot the entire day, but our process converts the energy into a form that is more easily stored.”

Switzer and his team use silicon wafers to absorb solar energy. The silicon is submerged in water, with the front surface exposed to a solar energy simulator and the back surface covered in electrodes to conduct the energy. The silicon has cobalt nano-islands formed onto it using a process called electrodeposition.

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