HZB reinforces energy research with a new Institute for “Solar Fuels”
Dr. Roel van de Krol becomes scientific manager on 1 July
How are we going to achieve a sustainable energy supply in the future? This is certainly one of the central and urgent problems of this decade. Researchers are facing the challenge of developing real solutions to the energy demands of the future. Helmholtz-Zentrum Berlin is reinforcing its energy research with the new institute “Solar Fuels and Energy Storage Materials”, headed as of 1 July by Dr. Roel van de Krol. The scientist has also received the call to Technische Universität Berlin in a soon to be concluded joint appointment procedure.
Solar cells convert sunlight to electricity that has to be fed immediately into a public grid. Grids have to be adapted to accommodate this because the electricity produced is subject to natural fluctuations. The only successful means of storing this electricity so far is in large-scale facilities called pumped storage plants. An alternative and promising approach to a sustainable energy supply is therefore to turn sunlight directly into solar fuels. The most simple example of a solar fuel is hydrogen, which can be obtained by splitting water. Once obtained, hydrogen can be further converted into more conventional fuels such as diesel and gasoline.
Direct production of fuels from sunlight is the formidable challenge that the newly established institute at HZB will now tackle. The researchers are looking at producing hydrogen in a monolithic material system, a system in which the semiconducting absorber and the catalyst are integrated into a single structure. The efforts at the institute will focus on the development of novel complex metal oxides as cost-effective and chemically stable alternatives to conventional PV semiconductors. For this, carefully designed nano-architectures will be explored to overcome the intrinsically poor semiconducting properties of metal oxides.
If they are to convert sunlight to hydrogen efficiently, the researchers must have a comprehensive understanding of the processes and interactions taking place during this energy conversion. HZB has honed its expertise in the analysis of solar cells over many years. The centre thus has an extensive range of powerful characterization methods at its disposal. Solar fuel research also requires collaboration between the disciplines of semiconductor physics, materials chemistry, (photo)electrochemistry, and boundary and surface sciences, which HZB already boasts with its energy research programme.
Before coming to HZB, Dr. Roel van de Krol was an assistant professor at the University of Delft in the Netherlands. After studying the materials sciences and completing his PhD at Delft University, van de Krol researched at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (USA). His research interests are solar hydrogen production, photo-catalysis, nanostructured metal oxides and the practical application of characterization techniques.