A Stanford University research lab has developed new technologies to tackle two of the world’s biggest energy challenges – clean fuel for transportation and grid-scale energy storage.

The researchers described their findings in two studies published this month in the journals Science Advances and Nature Communications.

Unlike gasoline-powered vehicles, which emit carbon dioxide, hydrogen cars themselves are emissions free. Making hydrogen fuel, however, is not emission free: Today, making most hydrogen fuel involves natural gas in a process that releases carbon dioxide into the atmosphere.

To address the problem, Cui and his colleagues have focused on photovoltaic water splitting. This emerging technology consists of a solar-powered electrode immersed in water. When sunlight hits the electrode, it generates an electric current that splits the water into its constituent parts, hydrogen and oxygen.

Finding an affordable way to produce clean hydrogen from water has been a challenge. Conventional solar electrodes made of silicon quickly corrode when exposed to oxygen, a key byproduct of water splitting. Several research teams have reduced corrosion by coating the silicon with iridium and other precious metals.

Writing in the June 17 edition of Sciences Advances, Cui and his colleagues presented a new approach using bismuth vanadate, an inexpensive compound that absorbs sunlight and generates modest amounts of electricity.

(Read more at news.stanford.edu)

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