Materials for solar fuels and chemicals

Abstract

The conversion of sunlight into fuels and chemicals is an attractive prospect for the storage of renewable energy, and photoelectrocatalytic technologies represent a pathway by which solar fuels might be realized. However, there are numerous scientific challenges in developing these technologies. These include finding suitable materials for the absorption of incident photons, developing more efficient catalysts for both water splitting and the production of fuels, and understanding how interfaces between catalysts, photoabsorbers and electrolytes can be designed to minimize losses and resist degradation. In this Review, we highlight recent milestones in these areas and some key scientific challenges remaining between the current state of the art and a technology that can effectively convert sunlight into fuels and chemicals.

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Figure 1: Diagrams comparing PV/electrolysis and PEC devices for production of solar fuels, showing products for electrochemical water splitting.

PONG CHAKTHRANONT

Figure 2: STH efficiency contour plots as a function of bandgaps and electrocatalytic overpotentials for the top and bottom absorbers of a dual (stacked) absorber PEC water splitting device.
Figure 3: Losses from experimentally measured electrocatalytic overpotentials for HER and OER.
Figure 4: Standard 'volcano' analysis of ηtheor for HER and OER using adsorption free energy descriptors from DFT calculations72,77.
Figure 5: Catalyst design strategies for tuning adsorption energies towards higher electrocatalytic activity.
Figure 6: A catalyst overlayer on a semiconductor surface can improve catalysis, passivate surface states, tune the band energetics and protect the surface from corrosion.

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Acknowledgements

The OER, ORR and HER work was supported by the US DOE, Office of Science, Basic Energy Sciences, Chemical Sciences, Geosciences and Bio Sciences Division through the SUNCAT Center for Interface Science. The work on CO2 reduction was supported by the Joint Center for Artificial Photosynthesis, a DOE Energy Innovation Hub, supported through the Office of Science of the US DOE under Award Number DE-SC0004993. Helpful discussions and insights from Jakob Kibsgaard and Thomas Hellstern are also gratefully acknowledged.

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Montoya, J., Seitz, L., Chakthranont, P. et al. Materials for solar fuels and chemicals. Nature Mater 16, 70–81 (2017). https://doi.org/10.1038/nmat4778

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