Renewable energy can be used to split water molecules to produce clean hydrogen fuel. One method uses sunlight to perform electrolysis of water, also known as photoelectrolysis. This process involves a photoelectrode containing a photoanode and photocathode, much like a battery, as well as a semiconductor material.
The semiconductor absorbs sunlight and converts it to electrons, which are then transported to the photoelectrode surface. The electrons react with the water on the photocathode side to release hydrogen and on the photoanode side to release oxygen. The separated hydrogen is then collected for use as fuel. However, photoelectrolysis is extremely costly, and not very efficient.
Researchers at the Univ. of Texas at Austin (UT-Austin) have developed a modified photoanode that lowers the cost of performing one step of photoelectrolysis. To do this, the UT-Austin team had to overcome a major technical challenge — the semiconductors within the photoanode are typically easily degraded by water, which can lower efficiency and increase cost.
To solve this issue, the researchers coated their semiconductor with a protective film that prevents degradation from water, but allows electrons to travel to the...
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