Using the power of the sun and ultrathin films of iron oxide (commonly known as rust), Technion-Israel Institute of Technology researchers have found a novel way to split water molecules into hydrogen and oxygen.
This breakthrough could lead to less expensive, more efficient ways to store solar energy in the form of hydrogen-based fuels. This could be a major step forward in the development of viable replacements for fossil fuels.
Furthermore, this finding could make possible the design of inexpensive solar cells that combine ultrathin iron oxide photoelectrodes with conventional photovoltaic cells based on silicon or other materials to produce electricity and hydrogen.
Researchers believe that these cells could store solar energy for on demand use, 24 hours per day. This is in strong contrast to conventional photovoltaic cells, which provide power only when the sun is shining (and not at night or when it is cloudy).
The findings could also be used to reduce the amount of extremely rare elements that the solar panel industry uses to create the semiconductor material in their second-generation photovoltaic cells. The Technion team’s light trapping method could save 90% or more of rare elements like Tellurium and Indium, with no compromise in performance.