New Solar Technology Generates Electricity and Hydrogen Gas

A new solar panel technology includes photovoltaic cells that could generate electricity during the day while at the same time producing hydrogen gas to power a fuel cell at night. The technology that makes this possible is two new types of nanocrystals that replace the traditional organic molecules in a solar panel's construction.

The researchers at Bowling Green State University, who developed the nanocrystals, write in JoVE, The Journal of Visualized Experiments that "the nanocrystals are unique for two reasons: they separate charge in different ways due to their architectures, and they are inorganic and durable. The first nanocrystal is rod-shaped, which allows the charge separation needed to produce hydrogen gas, a reaction known as photocatalysis. The second nanocrystal is composed of stacked layers and generates electricity, thus being photovoltaic."

hydrogen pv© Bowling Green State University

According to the researchers this replacement also makes for a more resilient, longer-lasting solar cell compared to those made with organic molecules, which break down over time from exposure to high heat and UV radiation.

Gizmag reports, "these are very durable crystals compared to their organic counterparts. Not only are they less susceptible to heat and UV radiation, they also don’t suffer from degradation problems that plague their organic counterparts – where those are often irreversibly “poisoned” while in service, the nanocrystals can be recharged with a methanol wash."

The nanocrystals, which are made of zinc selenide and cadmium sulfide, with a platinum catalyst added, could potentially create a solar panel and fuel cell combination that would provide clean energy 24 hours a day, while also lasting much longer than the typical 20-year lifespan of today's conventional solar panels.

New Solar Technology Generates Electricity and Hydrogen Gas
A new nanocrystal component gives solar photovoltaic panels a longer lifetime and the ability to also produce hydrogen gas.

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