Researchers Peidong Yang, Bin Liu and colleagues may have found a way to mimic plants’ ability to produce hydrogen from sunlight. Yang’s team used a process borrowed from the paper industry to create a flat mesh from light-absorbing semiconductor nanowires. When it contacts sunlight and water, it produces hydrogen gas—and apparently cheaply enough that the process could be quickly scaled.
Yang and Liu’s research was published as “All Inorganic Semiconductor Nanowire Mesh for Direct Solar Water Splitting” in ACS Nano, 2014, 8 (11), pp 11739–11744. The technology also wouldn’t require any extra wires or devices—making it low-impact on the environment. The abstract is as follows:
The generation of chemical fuels via direct solar-to-fuel conversion from a fully integrated artificial photosynthetic system is an attractive approach for clean and sustainable energy, but so far there has yet to be a system that would have the acceptable efficiency, durability and can be manufactured at a reasonable cost. Here, we show that a semiconductor mesh made from all inorganic nanowires can achieve unassisted solar-driven, overall water-splitting without using any electron mediators. Free-standing nanowire mesh networks could be made in large scales using solution synthesis and vacuum filtration, making this approach attractive for low cost implementation.
This is a gigantic step towards the manufacture of hydrogen (which could be used to power hydrogen fuel cell vehicles), without the need for the pollution and overhead of conventional power plants.
Image by Dominick Reuter