As a summer student at the HZB, I am working at the Institute for Solar Fuels on Artificial Photosynthesis research. In the project, I am taking part in, we aim to improve and characterize two materials, namely BaxMnyOz and MnxVyOz. By using Pulse Laser Deposition (PLD) as the synthesis method, our goal is to investigate the structure and photoelectrochemical properties of these materials by various methods and optimize them towards improving their solar-water-splitting efficiency.
This project and research at the Institute for Solar Fuels is based on the search for new light absorbing materials, which can harness the sun’s radiation to produce clean energy from the most abundant resource on earth, water (H2O). This has been on going ever since the first proof of concept in the early 1970’s by A. Fujishima and K. Honda.
Today, complex ternary metal oxides are at the research forefront as promising light-absorbing materials due to their abundance, favorable stability, and a potential to reach high efficiencies needed to achieve commercialization of the technology. BaxMnyOz and MnxVyOz are such material.
Both materials are semiconductors with an energy band gap suitable for absorbing sunlight and use the energy for water splitting. Both materials show promising results. These ternary oxides are special due to the ability to engineer their band gap, this allows us to find optimizations routes to increase efficiency.
What is Water Splitting? It is the electrolysis of water into Oxygen (O2) and Hydrogen (H2) by using energetically suitable light absorbing materials that convert light into electricity which drives the hydrogen and oxygen evolution reactions (HER and OER respectably). This is akin to the photosynthesis process in nature where the sun is used to convert water and carbon dioxide (CO2) to energy and O2 released.
Two weeks has already passed since the summer student program started and the project is well underway. I met incredible scientists from around the globe, all collaborating in the same field of research. This experience has me learning something new almost every day from theory and synthesis methods to new characterizing methods and new instruments. I am looking forward to the next several weeks to see what more will I learn, who will I meet and what the project will yield.