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[Due to the increasing size of the archives, each topic page now contains only the prior 365 days of content. Access to older stories is now solely through the Monthly Archive pages or the site search function.]

Integrated solar-driven system for electrochemical energy storage and water electrolysis for H2 production

November 21, 2017

A team from UCLA and colleagues from Tarbiat Modares University and Shahed University in Iran have devised an integrated solar-powered system for both electrochemical energy storage and water electrolysis.

They synthesized a nickel-cobalt-iron layered double hydroxide (Ni-Co-Fe LDH) on a nickel foam substrate using a fast, one-step electrodeposition approach. The Ni-Co-Fe LDH exhibited excellent electrochemical properties both as an active electrode material in supercapacitors, and as a catalyst in the oxygen evolution reaction (OER) for water splitting. A paper on their work is published in the journal Energy Storage Materials.

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Argonne team develops synthetic bionano membrane to convert light to hydrogen

October 16, 2017

A team led by researchers at the US Department of Energy’s Argonne National Laboratory has developed a new way to produce solar fuels by using completely synthetic bionano machinery to harvest light without the need for a living cell. The researchers’ device, reported in the journal ACS Nano as a “synthetic purple membrane,” contains tiny discs of lipids, man-made proteins and semiconducting nanoparticles that, when taken together, can transform sunlight into hydrogen fuel.

The system produces hydrogen at a turnover of about 240 μmol of H2 (μmol protein)−1 h–1 and 17.74 mmol of H2 (μmol protein)−1 h–1 under monochromatic green and white light, respectively, at ambient conditions, in water at neutral pH and room temperature, with methanol as a sacrificial electron donor.

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New hybrid photocatalyst for highly efficient hydrogen production from water

October 06, 2017

Researchers at the University of Central Florida, with colleagues at Pacific Northwest National Laboratory (PNNL) and Tsinghua University, developed a new hybrid nanomaterial—a nonmetal plasmonic MoS2@TiO2 heterostructure—for highly efficient photocatalytic H2 generation from water.

As reported in an open access paper in the RSC journal Energy & Environmental Science, the new catalyst is not only able to harvest a much broader spectrum of light than other materials, but can also stand up to the harsh conditions found in seawater.

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Berkeley Lab solar-to-fuel system for CO2 to ethanol and ethylene; light-powered production of fuel via artificial photosynthesis

September 19, 2017

Scientists at the Department of Energy’s Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory (Berkeley Lab) have harnessed the power of photosynthesis to convert carbon dioxide into fuels and alcohols at efficiencies far greater than plants. The achievement marks a significant milestone in the effort to move toward sustainable sources of fuel.

Many systems have successfully reduced carbon dioxide to chemical and fuel precursors, such as carbon monoxide or a mix of carbon monoxide and hydrogen known as syngas. This new work, described in a study published in the journal Energy and Environmental Science, is the first to successfully demonstrate the approach of going from carbon dioxide directly to target products—ethanol and ethylene—at energy conversion efficiencies rivaling natural counterparts.

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Metallic nanostructures with strong light confinement can triple the efficiency of solar-based hydrogen generation

August 29, 2017

Researchers led by a team from KAUST have found a more sustainable route to hydrogen fuel production using chaotic, light-trapping materials that mimic natural photosynthetic water splitting. In a paper in the journal Advanced Materials, the researchers report a new photocatalyst for hydrogen evolution based on metal epsilon-near-zero (ENZ) metamaterials.

The authors designed these to achieve broadband strong light confinement at the metal interface across the entire solar spectrum. Using electron energy loss spectroscopy, the authors show that hot carriers are generated in a broadband fashion within 10 nm in this system. The resulting photocatalyst achieves a hydrogen production rate of 9.5 µmol h−1 cm−2 that exceeds, by a factor of 3.2, that of the best previously reported plasmonic-based photocatalysts for the dissociation of H2 with 50 h stable operation.

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Bosch study highlights potential of e-fuels to reduce CO2 emissions

August 22, 2017

According to a new study by Bosch, the use of e-fuels—synthetic fuels based on renewable energy—in Europe by 2050 as a scheduled supplement to electrification could save up to 2.8 gigatons of CO2: three times Germany’s carbon-dioxide emissions in 2016.

The calculation is based on an assumed e-fuels blend of 1% in 2025, 10% in 2030, 40% in 2040 and completely replacing the fossil fuel share by 2050.

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SOLETAIR project produces first 200 liters of synthetic fuel from solar power and atmospheric CO2

August 08, 2017

The SOLETAIR project (earlier post) has produced its first 200 liters of synthetic fuel from solar energy and the air’s carbon dioxide via Fischer-Tropsch synthesis. Project partners include INERATEC, a spinoff of Karlsruhe Institute of Technology (KIT), VTT Technical Research Center of Finland and Lappeenranta University of Technology (LUT).

The mobile chemical pilot plant produces gasoline, diesel, and kerosene from regenerative hydrogen and carbon dioxide. The compact plant is designed for decentralized production, fits into a shipping container, and can be extended modularly.

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Photo-activated catalyst converts CO2 to CO for clean fuel technology; no unwanted byproducts

July 31, 2017

An international research team led by scientists at the Department of Energy’s Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory (Berkeley Lab) and Nanyang Technological University (NTU) in Singapore have developed a light-activated material that can chemically convert carbon dioxide into carbon monoxide without generating unwanted byproducts.

When exposed to visible light, the material, a “spongy” nickel organic crystalline structure, converted the CO2 in a reaction chamber exclusively into carbon monoxide (CO) gas, which can be further turned into liquid fuels, solvents, and other useful products. An open-access paper on the work is published in the journal Science Advances.

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Japan team reports pathway to green ammonia: photocatalytic conversion of nitrogen with water

July 30, 2017

Researchers in Japan report that a commercially available TiO2 with a large number of surface oxygen vacancies, when photo-irradiated by UV light in pure water with nitrogen—successfully produces ammonia (NH3). The solar-to-chemical energy conversion efficiency is 0.02%, which is the highest efficiency among the early reported photocatalytic systems. This is, however, lower than that of natural photosynthesis (0.1%) and artificial photosynthesis such as overall water splitting and H2O2 production (0.2%).

Although improved catalytic activity is necessary, the noble-metal-free TiO2 system therefore shows a potential as a new artificial photosynthesis for green NH3 production, the team suggests in a paper published in the Journal of the American Chemical Society.

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New robust triple-layer bifunctional catalyst for water splitting with earth-abundant materials

July 27, 2017

A new robust and highly active bifunctional catalyst developed by Rice University and the University of Houston splits water into hydrogen and oxygen without the need for expensive metals such as platinum. The work, the team suggests, provides a facile strategy for fabricating highly efficient electrocatalysts from earth-abundant materials for overall water splitting.

The electrolytic film produced at Rice and tested at Houston is a three-layer structure of nickel, graphene and a ternary metal phosphide (FeMnP, iron, manganese and phosphorus). The foamy nickel gives the film a large surface, the conductive graphene protects the nickel from degrading and the metal phosphide carries out the reaction. A paper on the work is published in the journal Nano Energy.

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Jülich evaluation of power-to-fuels recommends DME, OME3-5 and n-alkanes as diesel substitutes

July 13, 2017

An evaluation of the implementation possibilities of power-to-fuel (PTF) technologies by a team from Forschungszentrum Jülich GmbH in Germany recommends the PTF products DME, OME3-5 and n-alkanes as suitable diesel alternatives for the transportation sector. PTF processes essentially use renewable energy, CO2 and water to produce fuel, as in Audi’s targeted e-fuels projects. (Earlier post.) A paper on the Jülich study is published in the journal Fuel.

The simplest implementation strategy for such electrofuels would be a gradual market penetration by means of blending with conventional diesel, the authors suggested. Potential blending combinations highlighted in the paper include: fossil diesel + n-alkane cut; fossil diesel + OME3–5; Fossil diesel + n-alkane cut + 3-5; and n-alkane cut + OME3–5. The last blend—a suitable n-alkane cut mixed with OME3-5—has the greatest potential for increasing engine efficiency and reducing pollutant emissions. In addition, fossil diesel would no longer be required.

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Osaka team develops new solar-to-hydrogen catalyst that uses broader spectrum of light

June 26, 2017

A team at Osaka University in Japan has developed a new material based on gold and black phosphorus to harvest a broader spectrum of sunlight for water-splitting to produce hydrogen.

The three-part composite maximizes both absorbing light and its efficiency for water splitting. The core is a traditional semiconductor—lanthanum titanium oxide (LTO). The LTO surface is partly coated with gold nanoparticles. Finally, the gold-covered LTO is mixed with ultrathin sheets of the element black phosphorus (BP), which acts as a light absorber. The optimum H2 production rates of BP-Au/LTO were about 0.74 and 0.30 mmol g-1 h-1 at wavelengths longer than 420 nm and 780 nm, respectively. A paper on the team’s work is published in the journal Angewandte Chemie: International Edition.

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Soletair demo plant produces renewable hydrocarbon fuel from CO2 captured from the air

June 09, 2017

VTT Technical Research Centre of Finland and Lappeenranta University of Technology (LUT) are beginning testing of the Soletair demo plant, which uses air-captured carbon dioxide to produce renewable fuels and chemicals. The pilot plant is coupled to LUT’s solar power plant in Lappeenranta.

The aim of the project is to demonstrate the technical performance of the overall process and produce 200 liters of fuels and other hydrocarbons for research purposes. The demo plant incorporates the entire process chain, and comprises four separate units: a solar power plant; equipment for separating carbon dioxide and water from the air; a section that uses electrolysis to produce hydrogen; and synthesis equipment for producing a crude-oil substitute from carbon dioxide and hydrogen.

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EPFL team develops low-cost catalyst for splitting CO2

June 07, 2017

EPFL scientists have developed an Earth-abundant and low-cost catalytic system for splitting CO2 into CO and oxygen—an important step towards achieving the conversion of renewable energy into hydrocarbon fuels. A solar-driven system set up using this catalyst was able to split CO2 with an efficiency of 13.4%. A paper on the work appears in the journal Nature Energy.

The research was carried out by the lab of Michael Grätzel at EPFL. Grätzel is known worldwide for the invention of dye-sensitized solar cells (“Grätzel cells”). The new catalyst, developed by PhD student Marcel Schreier, postdoc Jingshan Luo, and several co-workers, is made by the atomic layer deposition (ALD) of tin oxide (SnO2) on copper oxide (CuO) nanowires. Tin oxide suppresses the generation of side-products, which are commonly observed from copper oxide catalysts, leading to the sole production of CO in the electroreduction of CO2.

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BNL, VT team creates Ru,Rh supramolecular photocatalysts for enhanced hydrogen production via artificial photosynthesis

June 04, 2017

Scientists have been trying to artificially replicate photosynthesis to convert solar energy to stored chemical energy, with the objective of producing environmentally friendly and sustainable fuels, such as hydrogen and methanol. However, mimicking key functions of the photosynthetic center, where specialized biomolecules carry out photosynthesis, has proven challenging. Artificial photosynthesis requires a molecular system that can absorb light; transport and separate electrical charge; and catalyze fuel-producing reactions. These complicated processes must operate synchronously to achieve high energy-conversion efficiency.

Now, chemists from the US Department of Energy’s (DOE) Brookhaven National Laboratory (BNL) and Virginia Tech have designed two supramolecular photocatalysts that incorporate individual components specialized for light absorption, charge separation, or catalysis. In both molecular systems, multiple light-harvesting centers made of ruthenium (Ru) metal ions are connected to a single catalytic center made of rhodium (Rh) metal ions through a bridging molecule that promotes electron transfer from the Ru centers to the Rh catalyst, where hydrogen is produced. A paper on the work is published in the Journal of the American Chemical Society.

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NREL researchers capture excess photon energy to produce solar fuels; higher efficiency water-splitting for H2

April 14, 2017

Scientists at the US Department of Energy’s National Renewable Energy Laboratory (NREL) have developed a proof-of-principle photoelectrochemical cell (PEC) capable of capturing excess photon energy normally lost to generating heat.

Using quantum dots (QD) and a process called Multiple Exciton Generation (MEG), the NREL researchers were able to push the peak external quantum efficiency for hydrogen generation to 114%. The advancement could significantly boost the production of hydrogen from sunlight by using the cell to split water at a higher efficiency and lower cost than current photoelectrochemical approaches. The research is outlined in a paper in Nature Energy.

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NREL sets new world efficiency record for solar hydrogen production: 16.2%

April 13, 2017

Scientists at the US Department of Energy’s (DOE) National Renewable Energy Laboratory (NREL) recaptured the record for highest efficiency in solar hydrogen production via a photoelectrochemical (PEC) water-splitting process.

The new solar-to-hydrogen (STH) efficiency record is 16.2%, topping a reported 14% efficiency in 2015 by an international team made up of researchers from Helmholtz-Zentrum Berlin, TU Ilmenau, Fraunhofer ISE and the California Institute of Technology. A paper in Nature Energy outlines how NREL’s new record was achieved. The authors are James Young, Myles Steiner, Ryan France, John Turner, and Todd Deutsch, all from NREL, and Henning Döscher of Philipps-Universität Marburg in Germany. Döscher has an affiliation with NREL.

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Ford favoring bulk-type solid-state battery for next-gen energy storage

April 05, 2017

Ford is exploring a variety of “beyond Li-ion” solutions, including Lithium-sulfur, Lithium-air and solid-state lithium-ion batteries. Of those, Ford is currently favoring a solid-state solution for several reasons, among them the better volumetric energy density this approach offers, said Ford engineer Venkat Anandan in a presentation at SAE WCX 17 in Detroit this week.

A Li-air battery, with its air cathode, is a low-cost system, Anandan said. It also offers a high theoretical specific energy density. Because the technology is similar to that of fuel cells, some of the design and engineering work that has already gone into fuel cells could be adapted for Li-air, he said. However, key drawbacks to the Li-air system are its relatively low practical energy density, low cycle life and the complexity of the system, Anandan said.

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GM, Ford R&D execs stress importance of improved, advanced fuels for future engine efficiency gains, GHG goals

April 03, 2017

In separate presentations at the 2017 SAE High Efficiency IC Engine Symposium in Detroit, R&D executives from GM and Ford each stressed the importance of improved, advanced fuels—among other technology developments—for their future engine efficiency gains and for long-term CO2 emissions goals.

David Brooks, Director for General Motors Global Propulsion Systems R&D located in Pontiac, gave a more medium-term perspective, emphasizing a pragmatic approach toward reducing CO2 with an eye to 2025. Meeting regulatory targets while keeping vehicles affordable will require the synergistic integration of fuels and engine technologies, he noted.

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Researchers create efficient, simple-to-manufacture photoanode for solar water-splitting

March 24, 2017

Researchers at Rice University and the University of Houston created an efficient, simple-to-manufacture core/shell photoanode with a highly active oxygen evolution electrocatalyst shell (FeMnP) and semiconductor core (rutile TiO2) for the photoelectrochemical oxygen evolution reaction (PEC-OER) for solar water splitting.

The lab of Kenton Whitmire, a Rice professor of chemistry, teamed up with researchers at the University of Houston and discovered that growing a layer of an active catalyst directly on the surface of a light-absorbing nanorod array produced an artificial photosynthesis material that could split water at the full theoretical potential of the light-absorbing semiconductor with sunlight. The results appear in two new studies. The first, on the creation of the catalytic films, appears in Chemistry: A European Journal. The second, which details the creation of photoanodes, appears in ACS Nano.

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Cambridge team demonstrates light-driven photoreforming of unprocessed biomass to H2 at room temperature

March 14, 2017

A team of scientists at the University of Cambridge has reported the light-driven photoreforming of cellulose, hemicellulose and lignin to H2 using semiconducting cadmium sulfide quantum dots in alkaline aqueous solution.

The system operates under visible light, is stable beyond six days and is even able to reform unprocessed lignocellulose, such as wood and paper, under solar irradiation at room temperature, presenting an inexpensive route to drive aqueous proton reduction to H2 through waste biomass oxidation. A paper on their work is published in the journal Nature Energy.

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IU team creates efficient nanographene-Re electro- and photo-catalyst for efficient reduction of CO2 to CO

March 09, 2017

Researchers at Indiana University Bloomington have synthesized a nanographene–Re (Rhenium) complex that functions as an efficient electrocatalyst and photocatalyst for the selective reduction of CO2 to CO for subsequent conversion to fuels.

The complex can selectively electrocatalyze CO2 reduction to CO in tetrahydrofuran at −0.48 V vs NHE—the least negative potential reported for a molecular catalyst. In addition, the complex can absorb a significant spectrum of visible light to photo-catalyze the chemical transformation without the need for a photo-sensitizer. A report on their work is published in the Journal of the American Chemical Society.

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CalTech, Berkeley Lab team uses new high-throughput method to identify promising photoanodes for solar fuels

March 07, 2017

Using high-throughput ab initio theory in conjunction with experiments in an integrated workflow, researchers at Caltech and Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory (Berkeley Lab) have identified eight low-band-gap ternary vanadate oxide photoanodes which have potential for generating chemical fuels from sunlight, water and CO2. A report on their methodology and the new materials is published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences (PNAS).

Researchers globally are exploring a range of target solar fuels fuels, from hydrogen gas to liquid hydrocarbons; producing any of these fuels involves splitting water. Each water molecule consists of an oxygen atom and two hydrogen atoms. The hydrogen atoms are extracted, and then can be reunited to create highly flammable hydrogen gas or combined with CO2 to create hydrocarbon fuels, creating a plentiful and renewable energy source.

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Texas A&M team developing photocatalyst to turn CO2 into renewable hydrocarbon fuels

March 06, 2017

Researchers with the Department of Mechanical Engineering at Texas A&M University, led by Dr. Ying Li, associate professor of mechanical engineering, are developing a photocatalyst to convert CO2 into renewable hydrocarbon fuels. The photocatalyst material acts as a semiconductor, absorbing the sunlight which excites the electrons in the semiconductor and gives them the electric potential to reduce water and CO2 into carbon monoxide and hydrogen, which together can be converted to liquid hydrocarbon fuels, said Li.

The first step of the process involves capturing CO2 from emissions sources. The material, which is a hybrid of titanium oxide and magnesium oxide, uses the magnesium oxide to absorb the CO2 and the titanium oxide to act as the photocatalyst.

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Light over heat: UV-driven rhodium nanoparticles catalyze conversion of CO2 to methane

February 27, 2017

Duke University researchers have engineered rhodium nanoparticles that can harness the energy in ultraviolet light and use it to catalyze the conversion of carbon dioxide to methane, a key building block for many types of fuels. An open-access paper on the work is published in Nature Communications.

Industrial-scale catalysis for fuels and materials generally relies upon heated catalysts for heterogeneous catalytic reactions with large activation energies. Such catalytic processes demand high energy inputs, shorten catalyst lifetimes through sintering deterioration and require product selectivity to mitigate unfavorable side reactions. Researchers have recently discovered that plasmonic metal nanoparticles are photocatalytically active, and that product selectivity may be achieved by tuning photon and LSPR (localized surface plasmon resonances) energies.

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NSF to award $13M to projects focused on electrochemical and organic photovoltaic systems

February 24, 2017

The US National Science Foundation (NSF) will award more than $13 million to projects in the Energy for Sustainability program. The goal of the Energy for Sustainability program is to support fundamental engineering research that will enable innovative processes for the sustainable production of electricity and fuels, and for energy storage. Processes for sustainable energy production must be environmentally benign, reduce greenhouse gas production, and utilize renewable resources.

The focus of this funding opportunity (PD-17-7644) is on electrochemical energy systems and organic photovoltaics.

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NREL shows graded catalytic-protective layer boosts longevity of high-efficiency photocathodes for renewable hydrogen

January 09, 2017

Researchers at the US Department of Energy’s National Renewable Energy Laboratory (NREL) have developed a method which boosts the longevity of high-efficiency photocathodes in photoelectrochemical water-splitting devices. Their works demonstrates the potential of utilizing a hybridized, heterogeneous surface layer as a cost-effective catalytic and protective interface for solar hydrogen production.

In a paper published in the journal Nature Energy, they show that annealing a bilayer of amorphous titanium dioxide (TiOx) and molybdenum sulfide (MoSx) deposited onto GaInP2 results in a photocathode with high catalytic activity and stability for the hydrogen evolution reaction. The study showed that the annealing results in a graded MoSx/MoOx/TiO2 layer that retains much of the high catalytic activity of amorphous MoSx but with stability similar to crystalline MoS2.

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On the road to solar fuels and chemicals

December 27, 2016

In a new paper in the journal Nature Materials (in an edition focused on materials for sustainable energy), a team from Stanford University and SLAC National Accelerator Laboratory has reviewed milestones in the progress of solid-state photoelectrocatalytic technologies toward delivering solar fuels and chemistry.

Noting the “important advances” in solar fuels research, the review team also noted that the largest scientific and technical milestones are still ahead. Following their review, they listed some of the scientific challenges they see as the most important for the coming years.

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Hydrogen from sunlight, but as a dark reaction; time-delayed photocatalytic H2 production

December 09, 2016

A team at the Max Planck Institute for Solid State Research, Germany, and collaborators at ETH Zurich and the University of Cambridge, have developed a system that enables time-delayed photocatalytic hydrogen generation—essentially, an artificial photosynthesis system that can operate in the dark. A paper on their work is published in the journal Angewandte Chemie International Edition.

The system uses a carbon nitride-based material that can harvest and store sunlight as long-lived trapped electrons for redox chemistry in the dark. More specifically, the system comprises a partially anionic, cyanamide-functionalized heptazine polymer, which, in the presence of an appropriate electron donor, forms a radical species under irradiation that has a lifetime of more than 10 hours. This ultra-long-lived radical can reductively produce hydrogen in the presence of a hydrogen evolution catalyst in the dark on demand.

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