Solar Panel 10 Times More Efficient to Produce Power from Water Splitting

9% efficiency in converting water into hydrogen and oxygen

A new kind of solar panel, developed at the University of Michigan, has achieved 9% efficiency in converting water into hydrogen and oxygen—mimicking a crucial step in natural photosynthesis. Outdoors, it represents a major leap in the technology, nearly 10 times more efficient than solar water-splitting experiments of its kind.

But the biggest benefit is driving down the cost of sustainable hydrogen. This is enabled by shrinking the semiconductor, typically the most expensive part of the device. The team’s self-healing semiconductor withstands concentrated light equivalent to 160 suns.

Currently, humans produce hydrogen from the fossil fuel methane, using a great deal of fossil energy in the process. However, plants harvest hydrogen atoms from water using sunlight. As humanity tries to reduce its carbon emissions, hydrogen is attractive as both a standalone fuel and as a component in sustainable fuels made with recycled carbon dioxide. Likewise, it is needed for many chemical processes, producing fertilizers for instance.

In the end, we believe that artificial photosynthesis devices will be much more efficient than natural photosynthesis, which will provide a path toward carbon neutrality,” said Zetian Mi, U-M professor of electrical and computer engineering who led the study reported in Nature.

The $40 Trillion Nuclear Fusion Push

Historic breakthrough in the quest for nuclear fusion 

For the first time ever, scientists have achieved a net energy gain in fusion tests. According to three people with knowledge of preliminary results from a recent experiment, US government scientists have made a breakthrough in the pursuit of limitless, zero-carbon power by achieving a net energy gain in a fusion reaction for the first time.

The federal Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory in California, which uses a process called inertial confinement fusion that involves bombarding a tiny pellet of hydrogen plasma with the world’s biggest laser, had achieved net energy gain in a fusion experiment in the past two weeks, the people said. Fusion reactions emit no carbon, produce no long-lived radioactive waste and a small cup of the hydrogen fuel could theoretically power a house for hundreds of years.

The fusion reaction at the US government facility produced about 2.5 megajoules of energy, which was about 120 per cent of the 2.1 megajoules of energy in the lasers, the people with knowledge of the results said, adding that the data was still being analyzed.
Bloomberg Intelligence has estimated that the fusion market may eventually be valued at $40 trillion.

The Rise of the Hydrogen Electric Car

Lack of charging infrastructure

The race is on for car manufacturers to bring out their own range on electric vehicles (EV). But what if the new kid on the block ends up taking over? Honda, Hyundai, and Toyota are among the major firms now testing out hydrogen fuel cell electric vehicles (FCEVs) in their production lines to see which proves the most successful.

FCEVs have been criticized for being less efficient as only around 55 percent of the hydrogen energy created through electrolysis is usable, compared to between 70 and 80 percent in battery-electric cars. However, there are several advantages to fuel cells, including low recharge times – just a matter of minutes, and long-range. But several practical obstacles stand in the way of hydrogen FCEVs, such as the lack of charging infrastructure in contrast to the ever-expanding EV infrastructure. For example, at the beginning of 2021 there were only 12 hydrogen fuelling stations in the U.K., not surprising as only two brands of FCEV were on the market – the Toyota Mirai and the Hyundai Nexo.

In addition, hydrogen is currently much more expensive than electric fuel, costing around £60 for a 300-mile tank. Moreover, much of the hydrogen on the market comes from the excess carbon produced from fossil fuels by using carbon capture and storage (CCS) technologies. Yet, the disadvantages of battery EVs should not be overlooked. After years of investment, it is unlikely that we will see major advances in battery technology any time soon. Not to forget that lithium-ion batteries are heavy, making them near-impossible to use in freight and aviation. The metals used in existing battery production, such as cobalt and nickel, are also problematic due to ethical mining concerns as well a high costs adding to the overall price of EVs.