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 World Is Vulnerable To Chinese Solar Dominance

China currently controls more than 80% of the world’s PV production capacity

The global solar panel supply chain is too concentrated in China, the International Energy Agency ( IEA) has warned in a new report. The report, titled Solar PV Global Supply Chains, notes that China has been instrumental in bringing down solar PV production costs.

However, it has also built its solar supply chain much faster than other countries, and this “level of geographical concentration in global supply chains also creates potential challenges that governments need to address.” Addressing the issue may be difficult, however. As the IEA itself writes, China has invested some $50 billion in new solar PV capacity over the last ten years, which is ten times what Europe has invested in the same capacity.

As a result, to date, more than 80 percent of the world’s PV production capacity across the supply chain is in China, the agency noted. This has been made possible by strong government support for solar power, the report notes. This support has been essential for reducing solar PV costs over the last decade by more than 80 percent. This has also turned China into a huge exporter of solar modules.