Water Could Be Tomorrow’s Fuel: New Research



Industries are working on fossil fuels over the past decades. Though they have been the backbone of the industries but they do have a big hand in the climate change. Fortunately, things have begin to change, use of fossil fuels have declined due to the rise of renewable energy sources.

A renewable energy source with great potential is solar energy. Solar energy has one variant called solar fuel which is actually conversion of water or carbon dioxide into combustible chemicals by sunlight. It is considered desirable goal for clean energy research because of relative abundance of solar fuel components.

water is tomorrow's world

Scientists have been working on creating practical solar fuels by developing low-cost and efficient materials to serve as photoanodes. Photoanodes are like anodes in a battery and activate the production of solar fuel by aiding the flow of Electrons during the process.  The number of potential photoanodes have been successfully doubled in just two years by the scientists from the Department of Energy’s Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory (Berkeley Lab) and the California Institute of Technology (Caltech).

Now, researchers led by Caltech’s John Gregoire and Berkeley Lab’s Jeffrey Neaton have developed a new, faster method to identify new materials to use as photoanodes. Moreover, they have found 12 promising candidates. They published their research in the online edition of the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

water is tomorrow's fuel

The study advanced this field of research by not only providing an improved method to look for photoanodes but also by giving researchers insight into the photoanodes, said Neaton, director for the Molecular Foundry at Berkeley Lab.

“What is particularly significant about this study, which combines experiment and theory, is that 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,” Neaton said in a Caltech press release.

The team combined computational and experimental approaches to discover these new photoanodes. A Materials Project database was mined for potentially useful compounds. Hundreds of theoretical calculations were performed at the National Energy Research Scientific Computing Center (NERSC) using computational resources, together with software and expertise from the Molecular Foundry. It was time to test those materials in the laboratory after the best candidates for photoanode activity were identified.

water is tommorow's fuel according to new researchImage Source: Caltech

The materials were simultaneously tested for anode activity under different conditions using high-throughput experimentation. According to Gregorie, this was the first time that these kinds of experiments had been run this way.

“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,” Gregoire said in the press release. They found that compounds with vanadium, oxygen and a third element had highly tunable electronic structure that made them uniquely favorable for water oxidation.

“Importantly, we were able to explain the origin of their tunability, and identify several promising vanadate photoanode compounds,” Neaton said in the press release. This research has left us with more uses of world’s most abundance resource – water. Advancements like this allow us to develop renewable energy cheaply and efficiently.

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