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Hydrogen Fuel from Water & Sunlight?

August 7, 2014 in Hydrogen, Technology by Rich Piellisch  |  No Comments

Argonne Team Examines a PEC/Photoelectrochemical Process

Researchers in Illinois are developing a process using photoelectrochemical cells to split water into hydrogen and oxygen using solar energy.

Ball and stick representation of salty water courtesy Argonne National Lab

Ball and stick representation of salty water courtesy Argonne National Lab

Specialized photoelectrode materials within the PEC cells act as a catalyst to drive the energy conversion process, states an article posted by the Argonne National Laboratory.

Giulia Galli, a professor at the University of Chicago’s Institute for Molecular Engineering, is leading a project at ALCF, the Argonne Leadership Computing Facility, to advance the understanding of PEC water-splitting.

Genius in Blue Gene

“Research into PEC water splitting is still in its early stages, but the promising approach could lead to technology for sustainable and clean hydrogen production,” states the Argonne research summary. “The key challenge to developing scalable, commercially viable PEC cells is identifying stable photoelectrode materials that efficiently absorb solar energy and catalyze the water splitting process.

“Making the task even more difficult,” the report adds, “the materials must also be cost-effective, earth-abundant, and non-toxic.”

Galli is carrying out large-scale simulations on Mira, the ALCF’s 10- petaflops IBM Blue Gene/Q supercomputer, to model the physical and chemical processes occurring at the interface between solid photoelectrodes and liquid electrolytes – water with dissolved salts, acids, and bases – at the microscopic scale.

Help from EC Davis Computer Center

“To understand how PEC cells work, you need to understand what’s happening at the interfaces between solutions and photoelectrodes, how light is absorbed, and how the system reacts after it is absorbed,” Galli says in the Argonne report. “This knowledge can be used to come up with design rules that help predict the best photoelectrode materials to use for PEC cells.”

Galli’s team is collaborating with Professor Francois Gygi of the Computer science department at the University of California, Davis. He is using “a set of simulation programs as a computational spectroscopy tool to probe and predict vibrational and electronic properties at the solid-liquid interface.”

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Source: Argonne National Laboratory with Fleets & Fuels follow-up

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