From Science Daily:

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 nanoplates 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 solar energy in sustainable ‘solar fuels’ 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 chemical reactions 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…

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