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Study: Newer Materials Could Turn Water Into The Fuel Of The Future

Researchers from the Caltech and Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory have in just two years almost doubled the number of materials which are known to have potential for its use in solar cells.

They did this by means of developing a process which promises to speed the discovery of commercially viable solar cells from water.

They could even replace coal, oil and other fossil fuels. Solar fuels which are a dream of clean-energy research are created by means of using sunlight, water and carbon dioxide (CO2).

New materials could turn water into the fuel of the future. Researchers are using a new high-throughput method of identifying new materials. (Image Courtesy: Google)
New materials could turn water into the fuel of the future. Researchers are using a new high-throughput method of identifying new materials. (Image courtesy: Google)

Exploring Newer Fuel Opportunities from Water:

Researchers are even exploring a range of target fuels which ranges from hydrogen gas to liquid hydrocarbons.

It even includes producing any of these fuels which involves splitting water.

Each of the water molecules is consisting of an oxygen atom and two hydrogen atoms.

Hydrogen atoms are extracted and can further be reunited for creating highly flammable hydrogen gas.

It even includes combining with CO2 for creating hydrocarbon fuels, while creating a plentiful renewable energy source.

Problem however is that water molecules don’t simply break down when sunlight shines over them.

If they did, oceans would not cover most of the planet. They require a little help from a solar powered catalyst.

For creating practical solar cells, scientists have been trying for developing lower cost and efficient materials which are known as photo anodes.

They are even capable of splitting water by use of visible light as an energy source.

Over past four decades, researchers have identified only 16 of these photo anodic materials.

Now by use of a new high-throughput method which includes identifying newer material team has found 12 promising newer photo anodes.

Importance of new Discovery:

Paper regarding the method and newer photo anodes has appeared the week of March 6 over online edition of Proceedings of National Academy of Sciences.

Newer method was developed via a partnership with the Joint Center for Artificial Photosynthesis (JCAP) at Caltech.

It even includes partnering with Berkeley Lab’s Materials Project by use of resources at the Molecular Foundry and the National Energy Research Scientific Computing Center (NERSC).

Neaton who is a director of the Molecular Foundry says, “What is particularly significant about this study, which combines experiment and theory.

It is in addition to identifying several new compounds for solar fuel applications. We were also able to learn something new about the underlying electronic structure of the materials themselves.”

Alternative Choices of Materials:

Previous materials discovery process has relied on cumbersome testing of the individual compounds. It was done to access their potential for use in specific applications.

In the newer process, Gregoire and his colleagues has combined computational and experimental approaches.

It was done by first mining a materials database for the case of potentially useful compounds by means of screening it.

Screening was done on the basis of properties of materials. Further they had done rapid testing of the most promising candidates by means of high throughput experimentation.

In the work which is described in PNAS paper, they have explored 174 metal vanadates. They were the compounds which contained the elements vanadium and oxygen with one other element from the periodic table.

According to Gregoire, research reveals how different choices for this third element can further produce materials having different properties. It even reveals how to tune those properties for making a better photo anode.

Gregoire says, “The key advance made by the team was to combine the best capabilities enabled by theory and supercomputers with novel high throughput experiments to generate scientific knowledge at an unprecedented rate.”

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