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WHY THIS MATTERS IN BRIEF

As the world weans itself off fossil fuels the new fuels we use need to be much greener to produce.

 

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Three years ago, scientists at the University of Michigan (UoM) discovered an artificial photosynthesis device made of silicon and gallium nitride (Si/GaN) that harnesses natural sunlight to generate carbon-free hydrogen fuel, known as green hydrogen, for fuel cells with twice the efficiency and stability of some previous technologies.

 

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Now, scientists at Lawrence Livermore and Lawrence Berkeley national laboratories – in collaboration with UoM – have uncovered a surprising, self-improving property in Si/GaN that contributes to the material’s highly efficient and stable performance in converting light and water into green hydrogen. And while this might not sound all that exciting the research, reported in Nature Materials, could help radically accelerate the commercialisation of both artificial photosynthesis technologies and hydrogen fuel cells, and help wean the world off of harmful fossil fuels faster.

Materials in solar fuels systems usually degrade and become less stable over time, and as a result they then produce hydrogen less efficiently until they altogether stop – but the team found an unusual property in Si/GaN that somehow enables it to become more efficient and stable over time.

 

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Previous artificial photosynthesis materials are either excellent light absorbers that lack durability or they are durable materials that lack light-absorption efficiency – but this material is both durable and an excellent light absorber. Furthermore, silicon and gallium nitride are abundant and cheap materials that are widely used as semiconductors in everyday electronics such as LEDs and solar cells, said co-author Zetian Mi, a professor of electrical and computer engineering at UoM who invented the first Si/GaN artificial photosynthesis devices a decade ago.

When Mi’s Si/GaN device achieved a record-breaking 3 percent solar-to-hydrogen efficiency, he wondered how such ordinary materials could perform so extraordinarily well in an exotic artificial photosynthesis device – so he turned to senior author and Berkeley Lab scientist Francesca Toma for help, and this is the result.

Source: UoM

About author

Matthew Griffin

Matthew Griffin, described as “The Adviser behind the Advisers” and a “Young Kurzweil,” is the founder and CEO of the World Futures Forum and the 311 Institute, a global Futures and Deep Futures consultancy working between the dates of 2020 to 2070, and is an award winning futurist, and author of “Codex of the Future” series. Regularly featured in the global media, including AP, BBC, Bloomberg, CNBC, Discovery, RT, Viacom, and WIRED, Matthew’s ability to identify, track, and explain the impacts of hundreds of revolutionary emerging technologies on global culture, industry and society, is unparalleled. Recognised for the past six years as one of the world’s foremost futurists, innovation and strategy experts Matthew is an international speaker who helps governments, investors, multi-nationals and regulators around the world envision, build and lead an inclusive, sustainable future. A rare talent Matthew’s recent work includes mentoring Lunar XPrize teams, re-envisioning global education and training with the G20, and helping the world’s largest organisations envision and ideate the future of their products and services, industries, and countries. Matthew's clients include three Prime Ministers and several governments, including the G7, Accenture, Aon, Bain & Co, BCG, Credit Suisse, Dell EMC, Dentons, Deloitte, E&Y, GEMS, Huawei, JPMorgan Chase, KPMG, Lego, McKinsey, PWC, Qualcomm, SAP, Samsung, Sopra Steria, T-Mobile, and many more.

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