Scientists at the Ecole Polytechnique Federale de Lausanne (EPFL) have developed a solar-powered artificial leaf that can produce hydrogen fuel from humid air. The device, which is built on a novel electrode that is transparent and porous, is able to harvest water from the air and convert it into hydrogen fuel. The semiconductor-based technology is scalable and easy to prepare, making it a significant step towards the production of solar fuels.
The researchers, led by Kevin Sivula, took inspiration from the way plants convert sunlight into chemical energy using carbon dioxide from the air. A plant harvests carbon dioxide and water from its environment, and with the extra boost of energy from sunlight, can transform these molecules into sugars and starches through photosynthesis. The sunlight’s energy is stored in the form of chemical bonds inside of the sugars and starches.
Sivula and his team have developed an artificial leaf that mimics this process, using transparent gas diffusion electrodes that are coated with a light harvesting semiconductor material to harvest water from the air and sunlight to produce hydrogen gas. These transparent gas diffusion electrodes are a key innovation that makes this technology possible, as traditional opaque electrodes would not allow the sunlight to pass through to the semiconductor material.
The device is able to produce hydrogen fuel from just water and sunlight, making it a potentially game-changing technology for the sustainable production of renewable energy. As Sivula explains, “To realize a sustainable society, we need ways to store renewable energy as chemicals that can be used as fuels and feedstocks in industry. Solar energy is the most abundant form of renewable energy, and we are striving to develop economically-competitive ways to produce solar fuels.”
This technology can produce hydrogen fuel from just water and sunlight, making it a potentially game-changing technology for the sustainable production of renewable energy. In the future, this technology could be used to provide hydrogen fuel for vehicles, homes and buildings and also as feedstocks for the chemical industry.
The team is now working on refining the technology to make it more efficient and cost-effective. With further development, this technology could be a viable solution for producing clean, renewable energy on a large scale.
Here the EPFL press release: A step towards solar fuels out of thin air