Solar-based fuels are becoming closer to reality as a replacement for coal and oil, thanks to researchers at the Department of Energy’s Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory (Berkeley Lab) and the California Institute of Technology (Caltech). In the past two years they’ve identified 12 more materials that could produce solar-based fuels—that’s nearly double the 16 such materials discovered over the past four decades.
The materials, called photoanodes, use light to catalyze water into hydrogen and oxygen, which can be combined with other materials, like carbon dioxide, to make a replacement fuel for gas or oil, for instance. If scientists can make a low-cost photoanode it will bring the a solar-based fuel closer to reality.
Pure hydrogen is extremely flammable, making it a potential energy source, Berkeley Lab said. But it needs to be in an effective carrier because as a gas, it’s not compact enough to serve as a fuel.
The new photoanodes were discovered by using a new, high-throughput method and the researchers published their results, “Solar fuels photoanode materials discovery by integrating high-throughput theory and experiment,” in the online edition of the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences on March 8.
“What is particularly significant about this study, which combines experiment and theory, is that in addition to identifying several new compounds for solar fuel applications, we were also able to learn something new about the underlying electronic structure of the materials themselves,” said Berkeley Lab’s Jeffrey Neaton, director of the Molecular Foundry.
The researchers evaluated 174 metal vanadates—compounds containing the elements vanadium, oxygen and another element. The third element involved in a vanadate can produce materials with different properties, the lab explained. The new method helped tune such properties to make a better potential photoanode.
“The key advance made by the team was to combine the best capabilities enabled by theory and supercomputers with novel high throughput experiments to generate scientific knowledge at an unprecedented rate.” said Caltech’s John Gregoire, JCAP coordinator for Photoelectrocatalysis and leader of the High Throughput Experimentation group.Tweet