At present it is possible to produce renewable hydrogen by photoelectrolysis where solar power is used to split water molecules into hydrogen and oxygen.
However, regardless of major research effort over the last forty years, basic problems remain before this can be adopted commercially because of lack of cost-effectiveness and inefficiency.
Dr Manus Hayne from the Department of Physics said: “For research to progress, innovation in both materials development and device design is clearly needed.”
The Lancaster research, which formed part of the PhD research of Dr Sam Harrison, and is published in Scientific Reports, offers the foundation for additional experimental research into the solar production of hydrogen as a renewable fuel.
It shows that the novel utilization of nanostructures could increase the highest photovoltage generated in a photoelectrochemical cell, boosting the productivity of splitting water molecules.
To the authors’ best knowledge, this system has never been investigated either theoretically or experimentally, and there is huge scope for further work to expand upon the results presented here.
Fossil fuels made up for nearly 90% of energy consumption in 2015, with absolute demand still increasing because of a growing global population and expanding industrialization.
Fossil-fuel combustion releases carbon dioxide into the atmosphere, causing global climate change, and there is only a finite amount of them available for extraction. We clearly need to transition to a renewable and low-greenhouse-gas energy infrastructure, and renewable hydrogen is expected to play an important role.
Dr Manus Hayne
Photovoltaic solar cells are presently used to change sunlight directly into electricity but solar hydrogen has the benefit that it can be easily stored; therefore it can be used as and when required.
Hydrogen is also very flexible, making it very advantageous for remote communities. It can be burnt in a cooker or boiler just like natural gas, or converted to electricity in a fuel cell. It can even be used as aircraft fuel.