A team of researchers yesterday said that they have used new materials to separate hydrogen from water, which they said could improve light conversion and advance the application of the clean energy source.
Hydrogen is a promising source of clean energy with no carbon emissions and the Japanese government is promoting it to power many facilities for the Tokyo Olympics this summer, National Taiwan University material science professor Chen Chun-wei (陳俊維), who led the research team, told a news conference at Ministry of Science and Technology in Taipei.
However, the production of hydrogen is costly and requires a considerable amount of electricity, and using solar energy to reduce costs is a critical research topic, he said.
Photo: Chien Hui-ju, Taipei Times
While silicon is a commercial photo-electrochemical material, silicon solar panels reflect and waste up to 40 percent of sunlight and cannot withstand the corrosion caused by electrolytic solution, Chen said.
The team has over the past decade been conducting research under the ministry’s Taiwan Consortium of Emergent Crystalline Materials program.
About three years ago, it found a method to improve the efficiency of silicon by applying a thin graphene layer, Chen said.
The graphene layer is made up of a single layer of atoms and is only 0.34 nanometers thick — one-100,000th of a human hair — so that it would not reduce light penetration, while it exhibits great optoelectronic properties and provides superior corrosion protection, he said.
The most challenging part was evenly distributing the graphene layer on silicon panels, as the traditional way of coating using polymethylmethacrylate cannot flexibly attach the layer on a rough surface, Chen said.
To overcome the problem, the team developed a novel method using ethylene-vinyl acetate, a soft polymer, for the coating, improving the light absorption of silicon panels by nearly 20 percent, he said.
National Taiwan University of Science and Technology chemical engineering professor Hwang Bing-joe (黃炳照) and Tunghai University assistant professor of chemistry Wang Di-yan (王迪彥) were also part of the team.
They detailed their findings in a paper published in the journal Advanced Energy Materials in August last year, with the paper featured on the back cover of the issue.
While they still need to introduce additional electricity, as well as platinum as a catalyst, to assist in the photo-electrochemical water splitting process to produce hydrogen, their ultimate goal is to do so without using electricity, Wang said.
In view of large-scale industrial application, operators would have to produce a large amount of graphene and opt for a more cost-efficient catalyst, he added.
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