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A panel reactor for splitting water into hydrogen

By Tetsuo Satoh |

A group of Japanese researchers have developed a photocatalytic panel reactor with large area (1 m2) that splits water into H2 and O2 using only natural sunlight. The NEDO (www.nedo.go.jp)-supported project — which includes partners Japan Technological Research Association of Artificial Photosynthetic Chemical Process (ARPChem; Tokyo), the University of Tokyo, Toto, Ltd. (Kanagawa), and Mitsubishi Chemical Corp. (Kanagawa) — aims to further the development of artificial photosynthesis for a future hydrogen-based economy.

The newly developed reactor contains sheets that are fabricated by coating a substrate with a photocatalyst — particles of Al-doped SrTiO3. Water, with a depth of only 1 mm on the panel, is split into H2 and O2 upon exposure to natural sunlight, without the need for forced convection. With the 1-m2 prototype, the researchers have demonstrated a solar-to-H2 (STH) energy conversion of 0.4%, and an apparent quantum yield (AQY) of 56% at 365 nm. The evolution of gases could also be adjusted to a rate of 5.6 mL/cm2/h, to give an apparent STH efficiency of 10%. The use of ceramic membranes is proposed as a way to separate the two gases, and to prevent the buildup of explosive mixtures of H2 and O2.

This shallow design, described in a recent issue of Joule, makes it possible to fabricate light reactors with inexpensive materials (such as plastic). Although alternative water-splitting methods, such as photoelectrochemical (PEC) or photovoltaic (PV) cells have achieved higher STH conversion efficiencies (as high as 30%), those designs are said to be difficult to scale up, due to long ion-transport distances required, as well as the need for large amounts of circulating electrolyte and buffer reagents. In contrast, the panel design operates with only water at a depth of 1 mm.

 

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