Photoelectrochemical water splitting in separate oxygen and hydrogen cells
Solar water splitting provides a promising path for sustainable hydrogen production and solar energy storage. One of the greatest challenges towards large-scale utilization of this technology is reducing the hydrogen production cost. The conventional electrolyser architecture, where hydrogen and oxygen are co-produced in the same cell, gives rise to critical challenges in photoelectrochemical water splitting cells that directly convert solar energy and water to hydrogen. Here we overcome these challenges by separating the hydrogen and oxygen cells. The ion exchange in our cells is mediated by auxiliary electrodes, and the cells are connected to each other only by metal wires, enabling centralized hydrogen production. We demonstrate hydrogen generation in separate cells with solar-to-hydrogen conversion efficiency of 7.5%, which can readily surpass 10% using standard commercial components. A basic cost comparison shows that our approach is competitive with conventional photoelectrochemical systems, enabling safe and potentially affordable solar hydrogen production.
Nature Materials (2017) doi:10.1038/nmat4876
Received 03 August 2016 Accepted 30 January 2017 Published online 13 March 2017