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Nanostructures enhance light trapping for solar fuel generation

Posted March 25, 2014
Nanostructures enhance light trapping for solar fuel generation
Illustration of a hematite photoelectrode consisting of a periodic nanobeam-array (red) on a conductive ITO layer (dark blue). The nanobeam structure boosts the absorption of sunlight at the hematite/H2O interface, resulting in more efficient conversion of sunlight into solar fuel. Credit: Soo Jin Kim, et al. ©2014 American Chemical Society
As the world’s dependence on fossil fuels causes ever-increasing problems, researchers are investigating solar fuels as an alternative energy source. To make solar fuels, sunlight is converted into hydrogen or another type of chemical energy. Compared to energy produced by solar cells, which convert sunlight directly to electricity, solar fuels such as hydrogen have the advantage of being easier to store for later use.

Because of the enormous amount of sunlight that reaches Earth, solar fuel generation has the potential to serve as a clean, terawatt-scale global energy source. But in order for this to happen, the photocatalysts that enhance light absorption and light trapping must be improved, both in terms of higher performance and lower cost.

In a new study, researchers Soo Jin Kim, et al., at the Geballe Laboratory for Advanced Materials in Stanford, California, have demonstrated that photocatalysts made from iron oxide exhibit substantial performance improvements when they are patterned with nanostructures. Their paper is published in a recent issue of Nano Letters.

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