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Scientists Create Solar Pixels That Can Produce Hydrogen For Weeks

In an exciting development, researchers from St John’s College at the University of Cambridge have created solar pixels that can produce hydrogen for weeks. They hope that this development will help the UK to push towards their net-zero targets for 2050.

Image of multiple BiOI and BiOI-BiVO4 pixels. Credit: Dr Virgil Andrei.

Most hydrogen is currently derived from fossil fuels, meaning that it is not the most eco-friendly solution as a sustainable fuel-alternative. There are currently also issues with solar fuel production in regard to performance and stability. However, researchers from St John’s college have developed a more sustainable alternative that should help to overcome the issues at hand. 

The solar device works by harvesting sunlight and splitting water in order to produce green hydrogen. To make the solar pixels, the researchers decided to focus on a material called bismuth oxyiodide (BiOI), using it to construct the new device alongside other sustainable materials. Researchers designed the new solar pixels to mimic the photosynthesis process that occurs in plant leaves, but instead of producing sugars, they produce fuels like hydrogen. 

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Another exciting development was also made when the researchers found that inserting BiOI between two oxide layers in their devices increased their stability, helping to overcome one of the current key issues with solar fuel production. They also found that when the device was coated with a water-repellent graphite paste, it helped to reduce levels of moisture infiltration and in turn, increasing the stability levels of the bismuth oxyiodide light-absorbing pixels from just minutes to a couple of months. For the researchers, this finding is particularly promising. 

"These oxide layers improve the ability to produce hydrogen compared to stand-alone BiOI," said Dr Robert Jagt from the Department of Materials Science and Metallurgy at the University of Cambridge. 

Image of BiOI pixels producing hydrogen bubbles. Image Credits: Dr Virgil Andrei.

Researchers also noted that multiple light harvesting areas on a device performed substantially better when compared to a single pixel of the same overall size. 

While the pixels are still in development, the researchers findings show many promising findings, and there is hope that device production could be easily scaled up for faster and more sustainable fuel production. Scientists have also recently developed solar panels that work at night, giving hope that solar panels could be able to produce energy around the clock.