Scientists create ‘artificial leaf’ that generates fuel using solar energy

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Researchers have upped the efficiency of solar fuel generating device that uses solar energy to generate hydrogen fuel from a previous 18 per cent to 22 per cent energy efficiency.

The research by scientists at Monash University will pave way for generation of clean sustainable fuel at much less a cost. Lead researcher Professor Leone Spiccia in the School of Chemistry at Monash explained that the process of splitting water generates hydrogen and oxygen by passing an electric current through water.

“Electrochemical splitting of water could provide a cheap, clean and renewable source of hydrogen as the ultimately sustainable fuel. This latest breakthrough is significant in that it takes us one step further towards this becoming a reality,” Professor Spiccia said.

Co-author, Professor Doug MacFarlane, ARC Laureate Fellow and leader of the Energy Program of the ARC Centre of Excellence for Electromaterials Science at Monash, attributed the breakthrough to the advanced expertise of the research team in water splitting and how to tune the process to work most effectively with high-efficiency commercial solar cells.

Professor MacFarlane explained how hydrogen is the ultimate in clean fuels since it contains no carbon and produces no carbon dioxide.

“Hydrogen can be used to generate electricity directly in fuel cells. Cars driven by fuel cell electric engines are becoming available from a number of car manufacturers. Hydrogen could even be used as an inexpensive energy storage technology at the household level to store energy from roof-top solar cells,” Professor MacFarlane said.

The ARC Centre of Excellence for Electromaterials Science is a group of more than 100 researchers across six locations in Australia, whose goal is to make sustainable energy sources cheaper and more accessible, to help society cope with the increasingly serious climate change and ocean acidification issues stemming from fossil fuel use.

The research was published in the leading journal Energy and Environmental Science.