Nanotech

Solar panels at a roof of a house. / Photo by: Tiia Monto via Wikimedia Commons

 

Solar energy is one of several renewable energies we use today to fight climate change. In a study done at Rutgers University, researchers found a new way to boost the storage used in solar energy.

The research team used star-shaped gold nanoparticles coated with a semiconductor that produces hydrogen from water. The hydrogen production of the nanoparticles was found at least four times more efficient, compared to other models. This can significantly improve storages deployed in solar energy facilities.

Typically, a solar energy system consists of several devices like a set of solar panels, an inverter, equipment to mount the panels, and a performance monitoring system to see how much electricity is produced. The electricity captured from sunlight passes through the inverter and is then converted to energy for direct use or for storage.

“Instead of using ultraviolet light, which is the standard practice, we leveraged the energy of visible and infrared light to excite electrons in gold nanoparticles. Excited electrons in the metal can be transferred more efficiently into the semiconductor, which catalyzes the reaction,” explained Laura Fabris, lead author of the study and an associate professor in the Department of Materials Science and Engineering at Rutgers.

The team targeted the visible and infrared light and allowed the gold nanoparticles to absorb it, which was absorbed quickly. Next, they transferred the electrons generated by light absorption to the titanium dioxide. Then, they coated the nanoparticles with the titanium dioxide and exposed the entire material to ultraviolet light, infrared light, and visible light. The researchers observed the activity of the electrons including how it jumps from gold to the titanium dioxide.

Observation showed that the light-exposed electrons can generate more hydrogen effectively, which may help the demand for hydrogen gas in the growing renewable power industry. The researchers are planning to conduct further studies to understand how the material operates, and successful understanding may lead to newer designs of semiconductors and other materials for many industrial applications.