Researchers at the Eindhoven University of Technology in Netherlands and FOM Foundation have developed a new prototype “solar fuel cell”, using gallium phosphide nano-wires, which turns sunlight into electrical charge and splits water to create hydrogen,
The electricity produced by normal solar cells has already been utilised to split the water and produce hydrogen, and while efficient, it is also very expensive.
Thus, researchers have claim that the use of the nano-wires increases the efficiency of gallium phosphide cells, while utilising less precious metal, lowing cost and material usage.
However, although the new configuration might be ten times more efficient, it only pulls efficiency by 2.9%.
“For the nanowires we needed ten thousand [times] less precious material than in cells with a flat surface. That makes these kinds of cells potentially a great deal cheaper,” explained Erik Bakkers, an author of the report published in Nature Communications.
“In short, for a solar fuels future we cannot ignore gallium phosphide any longer.” He continued.
With the regular technology attracting such a cost, researchers have turned to looking at semiconductors, such as gallium phosphide that splits water and creates an electrical charge at the same time.
Although, it is not without its faults, the metal is poor at absorbing light and so researchers, from Eindhoven University have decided to use the metal as a grid utilising nano-wires that is attributed the immediate increase in efficiency.
However, there is still a lot of room for improvement as Bakkers says
“For the nanowires we needed ten thousand less precious GaP material than in cells with a flat surface. That makes these kinds of cells potentially a great deal cheaper,"
"In addition, GaP is also able to extract oxygen from the water -- so you then actually have a fuel cell in which you can temporarily store your solar energy. In short, for a solar fuels future we cannot ignore gallium phosphide any longer." He says.
Although with the potential of this new cell competing with the current model, there is also major work to be done.