Splitting water with solar power

Splitting water with solar powerThis is a guest post from Mathias Aarre Maehlum, an environmentalist who studies energy engineering. In his spare time he works as a freelance writer. Read more of his stuff at Energy Informative.

Researchers at Technion-Israel Institute of Technology have figured out a way to split water molecules (H2O) into hydrogen by using the sun.Hydrogen has long been touted as the energy carrier of the future.

Only time will tell whether or not this actually turns out to be true, meanwhile hydrogen does bring several promising benefits to the table.

  • The only byproduct of extracting power from hydrogen is water vapor – as opposed to carbon dioxide or other nasty climate gases.
  • Fuel cells that run on hydrogen are more efficient than combustion engines that use gasoline. Your car can actually drive about twice the distance on hydrogen.

“Our approach is the first of its kind. We have found a way to trap light in ultrathin films of iron oxide that are 5,000 times thinner than typical office paper. This is the enabling key to achieving high efficiency and low cost. “ says lead researcher Associate Prof. Avner Rothschild,

Iron oxide, more commonly known as rust, is inexpensive, cheap and stable. All reasons that explains why the molecule has been the subject of interests for many scientists over the years. However, iron oxide is also associated with certain issues – the main one being poor conductivity.

“Our light-trapping scheme overcomes this, enabling efficient absorption in ultrathin films wherein the photogenerated charge carriers are collected efficiently,” Prof. Rothschild continues. Their discovery could potentially lead to some sort of a hybrid solar cell capable of generating both hydrogen and electricity, as well as storing energy. An ultrathin layer of iron oxide is also thought to yield higher efficiency rates when on top of a conventional silicon-based solar cell.

Finding new materials that are abundant and cheap can possibly send the solar industry into an entirely different course. The Israli research team says their technology possibly could limit as much as 90% of all rare elements used in today`s
solar cells, which in the long run undoubtedly would lead to serious cost reductions.

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