Nano plates as catalysts for solar fuels

March 18, 2016
Nano plates as catalysts for solar fuels
Tungsten oxide crystals ('nano plates')

Solar fuels, clean fuels from sunlight, water and CO2, form an attractive way for storing solar energy in hydrogen or hydrocarbons, for example. The efficiency of this technology still needs a 'boost'. Researcher Kasper Wenderich of the MESA+ Institute for Nanotechnology of the University of Twente (NL), investigated special nanoplaatjes with platinum particles on them, accelerating the chemical conversion. During his research, he discovered why the effect of these particles is less than commonly expected. Wenderich defends his PhD thesis on March 18.

The major problem of solar energy being converted into electric current, is storage. The demand for electricity often doesn't keep up with the production. Couldn't we store in sustainable '' is a question scientists worldwide ask themselves. Hydrogen can be one of those fuels, with water and sunlight as a basis. But also CO2 conversion is an option: an attractive way to tackle the huge emission problem in the world.

Steering electrons

For the involved, special materials are required, photocatalysts. Titanium dioxide is very often used, but according to Wenderich this has some limitations. He chose another alternative, tungstenoxide, a yellow material that is better capable of adsorbing sunlight. From this, he makes special crystal structures, nanosized plates: on the surfaces, facets, of these plates the chemical reactions will take place. For example: sunlight frees electrons appearing just at one surface and forming hydrogen whenever hydrogen ions adsorb at the surface. Steering the electrons in the right directions, that's the challenge. De 'holes' that are freed, move to one of the other surfaces of the plate and react with oxygen ions towards oxygen gas.

Wrong landing spots

But tungsten oxide, as well, needs an extra 'push' for a higher effiency. Platina nanoparticles can serve as a co-catalyst in the reactions with electrons, is the common thought. These particles are placed on the reactive surfaces with a technique that uses light as well, photo deposition. When platina is present, the electrons are even more keen on moving to the right surface: that's at least the theory. Putting platina on the right surfaces, however, is not as easy as it seems, is Wenderich's conclusion. It tends to move to the edges instead of the surfaces. By doing so, it even tends to slow down the reaction instead of speeding it up. Wenderich demonstrates this with a solar fuel experiment of which the yield is less than expected. He also looked into the mechanisms in detail, using Atomic Force Microscopy. Wenderich's thesis provides a lot of new insights into the best distribution of particles and their size. Although the results weren't so good as expected, photo deposition is still an attractive option for solar fuel generation. The use of these nano plates is also possible for other materials than , which opens new lines of research for the future.

Explore further: New material increases the lifetime of solar-powered electrons

Related Stories

Chemically storing solar power

February 22, 2016

A photo-electrochemical cell has been developed at TU Wien (Vienna). It can chemically store the energy of ultraviolet light even at high temperatures.

New step towards future production of solar fuels

January 26, 2015

One way of storing solar energy is to transform the energy directly into a fuel. Researchers at Uppsala University have shown a reaction which makes the process of creating fuel from solar energy more efficient and less energy ...

Researchers seek efficient means of splitting water

February 5, 2016

Photovoltaics promise to help meet our energy needs by turning sunlight into electricity. We can't run everything that way, but with a little tweaking, photovoltaic materials can use solar energy to split water into hydrogen ...

Recommended for you

A composite thread that varies in rigidity

October 27, 2016

EPFL scientists have developed a new type of composite thread that varies in stiffness depending on its temperature. Applications range from multifunctional robots to knitted casts, and even tunable medical devices.

Turning CO2 to stone

October 25, 2016

Earth has limits to the amount of carbon dioxide in its atmosphere before the environment as we know it starts to change. Too much CO2 absorbed by the oceans makes the water more acidic. Too much in the atmosphere warms the ...


Please sign in to add a comment. Registration is free, and takes less than a minute. Read more

Click here to reset your password.
Sign in to get notified via email when new comments are made.