Fact of the Month February 2019: A Process to Produce Hydrogen from Water Using Sunlight Reaches 16.2% Efficiency, on Its Way to Meeting DOE Target

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Hydrogen bubbles coming off a photelectrode immersed in electrolyte solution
Hydrogen bubbles being generated in water from the illumination of a high-efficiency semiconductor-based PEC cell at room temperature. Image source: NREL.

Photoelectrochemical (PEC) hydrogen production offers a promising route to affordable and sustainable hydrogen fuel by harvesting light from the sun and using water as feedstock. Researchers use a metric called solar-to-hydrogen (STH) efficiency as a standard way to evaluate PEC systems based on how effectively they convert energy from the sun into hydrogen. In 2016, the National Renewable Energy Laboratory broke a standing 18-year world record, demonstrating 16.2% STH efficiency over the previous 12% STH, well on its way to meeting the U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) target of 25%. Since then research efforts have continued to improve efficiency and durability of this technology through advanced and innovative materials. DOE's Fuel Cell Technologies Office within the Office of Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy funded this work.