Solar Fuels / Catalysis

Test setup in the PECSYS laboratory in Adlershof

We are developing materials that use solar energy to convert water into hydrogen. PECSYS Laboratory in Adlershof © HZB / P. Dera

Solar fuels

Solar energy is not available 24/7. However, it can be stored – through a process that also takes place in green plants. Light is able to split water molecules, producing oxygen and hydrogen. This hydrogen gas can be stored or transported. It can be fed into the natural-gas distribution network, or processed to produce methane. Motor vehicles can be operated on hydrogen. And last but not least, fuel cells can produce pollution-free electrical power using hydrogen.

To produce solar hydrogen, we combine semiconducting layers with photoelectrodes and catalysts to produce an artificial leaf. These systems of materials are not stable and effective enough to be deployed yet. Several research groups at HZB, including the Institute for Solar Fuels, are working to change this. They are developing electrodes and catalysts from economical metal-oxide compounds, for example.

Photoelectrochemical laboratory: Optical table

Researchers are working on making catalytic reactions more efficient. © HZB/M. Setzpfandt

Catalysis and conversion of carbon dioxide into chemical feedstock

Reducing emissions of climate-damaging carbon dioxide (CO2) is a major social challenge. At HZB, we are conducting research into the electrochemical conversion of carbon dioxide using renewable energies. This produces hydrocarbons such as methane, methanol or ethylene, which are important raw materials for the chemical industry.

But in many catalytic reactions, the stability of current catalysts is too low and the materials are not stable. Therefore, we investigate the electronic and electrocatalytic properties of the materials in "real time" and under reaction conditions. The aim is to improve energy efficiency, reaction speed and yield in CO2 catalysis.

We are pursuing this research goal with strong partners: In the "UniSysCat" excellence cluster (link), Berlin universities and non-university research institutions work together in a large interdisciplinary network. The HZB contributes expertise in the material synthesis of thin-film absorbers, photoelectrochemistry and time-resolved optical spectroscopy.

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