Researchers at Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory (LBL) in California made a novel solar cell which selectively cranks out electricity and hydrogen.  They integrated photovoltaic and electrochemical devices and created the hybrid. Panels of these hybrid cells can simultaneously meet energy demand in the real time while saving up hydrogen to backup solar, hydro and wind generators and to fuel hard-to-electrify equipment such as airplanes.

Basically, LBL’s invention is a single hybrid photoelectrochemical and voltaic (HPEV) cell that makes dual use of its photon-excited electrons to . To achieve dual-functioning, the researchers added a third electrode. One of the electrodes is placed in photoelectrochemical cell atop the device and produces hydrogen using as many electrons as it can while the other two photovoltaic electrodes use the rest of the charges to provide electricity like in solar cells. New hybrid can convert 6.8 percent of sunlight to hydrogen and also turn out another 13.4 percent of the available solar energy into electricity.

It is also possible to electrically modulate the HPEV cell by using reservoir of charges and choosing the type of production (hydrogen or electricity) to accommodate the productivity to the cost of electricity at the moment. But the invention still needs some research to widen its scope for manufacturing and other spheres where it is needed.

Nowadays it is more and more popular to use solar-powered PV panels and other renewable electricity devices to abate the greenhouse effect and also reduce the environmental pollution, but there is still a need to reorganize this process to achieve better results in the output of energy as the solar-hydrogen energy is not so widely used as solar, wind and water ones. The cost of generating power from onshore wind has fallen by around 23%  since 2010 while the cost of solar photovoltaic (PV) electricity has fallen by 73% in that time. In comparison, now all types of energy have approximately one price bracket, but fuel one needs to be “charged” every time it’s over while alternative energy sources just need only equipment service during exploitation period.

Where is the money?

Growing demand for energy along with the environmental issues made renewable energy technologies, such as solar pv panels and hydrogen fuel cells seem to be a very profitable alternative. On top of that, for the last years the production of the equipment of both types is becoming more advanced and cheaper so that all these factors lead to great achievements in the market. Since 2013 startups of solar power devices raised nearly $6.4 billion in funding with such successful enterprises as Sunnova Energy Corp and Brightsource Energy which both has got over $1 billion worth. Overall global investments in this sphere increased ten folds since 2004 and by 2016 reached $ 113.7 billion. It is expected to grow very fast and forecasts predict 16.8% of annual growth rate during 2018-2023. Hydrogen-based renewable energy sector appears to be prolific as well. It’s already actively implemented in hydrogen vehicle production and expected to be the future of eco-friendly energy. Forecasts tells that investments in hydrogen will reach around $200 billion by 2025. At the moment the biggest leaders of the renewable energy market are China, U.S., India and Japan, although this year there have been way more countries that have added to the global market share (Especially Germany, Belgium and Italy). All in all, this sector appears to be quite prolific and further innovation in its technology such as aforesaid cutting-edge multifunctional invention would get even more attention and investments.

The techer: Gideon Segev, lead author.

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