Storing Solar Energy Using Water and Rust

Goal of Swiss researchers is to produce a solar-powered hydrogen generation system with 10% efficiency for less than $80 per square meter.

Published: 12-Nov-2012

One big knock on solar energy is that it is inconsistent; it doesn't work at night or on cloudy days and storing it in batteries takes away the cost effectiveness. But a new technology is in development that can transform that light energy into a storable clean fuel that still has a neutral carbon footprint - hydrogen.

What does it take? Water and iron oxide, better known as rust. Kevin Sivula and colleagues at Ecole Polytechnique Fédérale de Lausanne intentionally stuck to inexpensive materials and easily scalable production processes in order work toward an economically viable method for solar hydrogen production.

The idea of converting solar energy into hydrogen is not a new one, researchers have been working on it for more decades, almost as long as people have been working on effective solar power. In the 1990s, Michaël Grätzel co-invented the photoelectrochemical (PEC) tandem solar cell, a technique for producing hydrogen directly from water. Their prototypes shared the same basic principle: a dye-sensitized solar cell combined with an oxide-based semiconductor.


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