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Scientists Develop a Quantum-Dot Process to Split Water and Generate Hydrogen


Fuel cells can be used in various applications such as spacecraft, remote weather stations, large parks, rural locations, military applications and automotive industry. Fuel cells have hydrogen as the base element for their power.

Using a simple process like electrolysis, water can be split into its  two compounds: hydrogen and oxygen. Two graduate students Jennifer Hensel and Gongming Wang, found a more efficient and direct way to generate hydrogen. They have developed a photoelectrochemical (PEC) cell that is able to generate hydrogen using sunlight, inside the cell itself.

The UCSC (University of California, Santa Cruz) researchers combined two technologies called elemental doping and quantum dot sensitization in order to improve the performance of metal oxide semiconductors in solar cells. The semiconductor material was used as a light-absorbing anode in the PEC cell.

Jin Zhang, professor of chemistry and biochemistry at UCSC already proved that the combined techniques enhance the performance of a photovoltaic cell and later on he teamed up with Yat Li, assistant professor of chemistry and biochemistry, to test the same combination in a PEC cell. As this needed as well a lot of theoretical work to completely understand the mechanism, on the 25th of January, not surprisingly, a paper was published by two scholars of Zhang and Li: Jennifer Hensel and Gongming Wang, treating the fore-mentioned subject.

Hensel and Wand synthesized thin films of titanium dioxide nanoparticles and titanium dioxide nanowire arrays vertically aligned in a thin film on a substrate. The titanium dioxide films were doped with nitrogen, while the quantum dot sensitization was made with cadmium selenide nanoparticles. The nanostructure was used as photoanode in a PEC cell.

The results were successful and proved that the efficiency of photoelectrochemical cells and of photovoltaic solar cells can be greatly increased using combined elemental doping and quantum dot sensitization process.

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