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Rust and Solar Power Equals Free Hydrogen, Israel Institute Finds

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Technion-Israel Institute may have found a way to revolutionize the solar industry, and researchers at the Institute believe their cost-effective approach would lead to better and more efficient storage of solar energy in the form of hydrogen-based fuels. Researchers have determined that using sun rays and iron oxide (known to the layman as rust) splits water molecules into hydrogen and oxygen. If their approach is successful, fossil fuels may be a thing of the past.

This innovative approach to solar energy conversion and storage is the first of its kind. Light in ultrathin films of iron oxide (5000 times thinner than office paper), is trapped. The light trapping scheme bypasses previous difficulties with poor electrical transport and enables absorption in the ultrathin films, thereby allowing the photogenerated charge carriers to be collected efficiently.

The major deficiency of the traditionally used photovoltaic cells derives from their ability to provide power only when the sun is shining, severely limiting efficiency and constancy. This new method may lead to the design of inexpensive solar cells that produce electricity and hydrogen, and these cells would have the ability to store solar energy for 24 hours each day all day.

Gone is the hunt for rare and expensive semiconductor materials used in second generation photovoltaic cells because over 90% of rare elements like Tellurium and Indium would no longer be used. Instead, iron oxide, which is extremely cheap, plentiful, and stable in water, would replace the formerly used costly materials.

If this method is ultimately effective and adopted by the solar energy industry, this would be a major breakthrough for solar energy conversion and storage.

[via Science Daily]

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