Australian researchers have found a new way to use a very old source of solar energy. Plants have been converting sunlight into energy for millions of years, and the team at Monash University in Melbourne have built a device that can do the same thing.
The photosynthetic device is even more efficient than traditional solar panels.
The process was recently detailed in an article published in the journal of Energy & Environmental Science. An electrical current is propagated through water, where commercial solar cells split the atoms into hydrogen and oxygen. The device can therefore create hydrogen fuel, which contributes no carbon to the atmosphere.
These devices are 22% more energy efficient than traditional models, which have only reached 18% efficiency. Solar plants, meanwhile, are only 1-2% energy efficient on average, so the benefits of this new source of solar energy could be enormous.
According to Professor Doug MacFarlane, it will unfortunately be a long time before the technology is available on the market. Professor MacFarlane was also one of the lead authors for the study and is also responsible for the Energy Program of the ARC Centre of Excellence for Electromaterials Science in Melbourne. He believes that electricity prices are currently too low to act as an incentive for manufacturers to adopt the method.
He and his team continue to work, however, striving to reach 30% efficiency with their new devices. Their work now will shape the future of energy and help humans find a way to coexist with the environment.
Image (c) Monash University