Solar fuels and catalysis

We develop devices which work like artificial sheets. Photo A. Kubatzki

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 the HZB are working to change that. They are developing electrodes and catalysts from economical metal-oxide compounds, for example.

Understanding the CO2 catalysis is one of the main issues to improve the energy efficiency. Photo: M. Setzpfandt

Conversion of carbon dioxide into chemical feedstock

Reducing the emission of carbon dioxide (CO2) that drives climate change is an enormous challenge for society. One idea of how to do this is to use renewable energy to electrochemically convert water and carbon dioxide (such as from
power stations). This produces hydrocarbons like methane, methanol, and ethylene – important raw materials for the chemical industry. Fundamental research is still needed to improve the energy efficiency, reaction speed, and yield of the CO2 catalysis. The HZB will be expanding its efforts on this research priority in the coming years.