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Grad Student Co-Authors Paper on Optimizing Solar Fuel Production

Solar water splitting
Solar water splitting
Courtesy Brookhaven National Laboratory

Chenyu Zhou, a graduate student in materials science and chemical engineering in the College of Engineering and Applied Sciences, has co-authored a paper published in Nature Energy on how tuning electrode surfaces can optimize solar fuel production.

The paper, titled “The impact of surface composition on the interfacial energetics and photoelectrochemical properties of BiVO4,” was written with co-corresponding authors Mingzhao Liu, a staff scientist in the Interface Science and Catalysis Group of the Center for Functional Nanomaterials, a U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) Office of Science User Facility at Brookhaven National Laboratory; Giulia Galli, from the University of Chicago and DOE’s Argonne National Laboratory; and Kyoung-Shin Choi from the University of Wisconsin–Madison.

Choi and Galli, experimental and theoretical leaders in the field of solar fuels, respectively, have been collaborating for several years to design and optimize photoelectrodes for producing solar fuels. Recently, they set out to design strategies to illuminate the effects of electrode surface composition, and, as CFN users, they teamed up with Liu.

The Feb. 18, 20201 paper demonstrated how modifying the topmost layer of atoms on the surface of electrodes can impact the activity of solar water splitting. Bismuth vanadate electrodes with more bismuth on the surface (relative to vanadium) generate higher amounts of electrical current when they absorb energy from sunlight. This photocurrent drives the chemical reactions that split water into oxygen and hydrogen. The hydrogen can be stored for later use as a clean fuel. Producing only water when it recombines with oxygen to generate electricity in fuel cells, hydrogen could help achieve a clean and sustainable energy future.

“To see how different surface terminations affect photoelectrochemical activity, you need to be able to prepare crystalline electrodes with the same orientation and bulk composition,” said Zhou, who was working with Liu. “You want to compare apples to apples.”

Read the press release from Brookhaven National Laboratory.

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