- Researchers at LMU have innovatively engineered high-performance nanostructures, harnessing solar energy to produce hydrogen efficiently.
- This material currently holds the world record for the most sustainable production of green hydrogen using sunlight.
Emiliano Cortés, a professor of experimental physics and energy conversion at LMU, is researching ways to efficiently capture and utilize solar energy. Instead of using traditional methods like large solar farms or mirrors, Cortés and his team at LMU’s Nano-Institute are exploring the nanocosmos to harness sunlight. He recognizes that sunlight’s energy is relatively low when it reaches Earth, a challenge faced by conventional solar cells as well. To address this, he is developing plasmonic nanostructures that can concentrate solar energy. In a recent publication in the journal Nature Catalysis, Cortés, along with Dr. Matías Herran and collaborators from the Free University of Berlin and the University of Hamburg, introduced a two-dimensional supercrystal capable of generating hydrogen from formic acid using sunlight.
The supercrystal is created by using nanoscale particles of plasmonic metals, such as gold. At this scale, visible light interacts strongly with the metal’s electrons, creating a dipole moment or a mini-magnet effect. This concentration of energy allows the nanoparticles to capture more sunlight and generate high-energy electrons that drive chemical reactions. To utilize this energy, the researchers arranged gold particles on a surface with self-organization principles, creating localized electric fields known as hotspots between the particles. Platinum nanoparticles, a powerful catalyst material, were placed in these hotspots to enhance light absorption and facilitate chemical reactions, converting formic acid into hydrogen.
With this hydrogen production rate from formic acid, the photocatalytic material holds the world record for hydrogen production using sunlight. This achievement marks a significant step towards sustainable hydrogen production, as hydrogen is currently primarily produced from fossil fuels. Researchers worldwide are actively working on technologies to transition to more sustainable hydrogen production using alternative feedstocks such as formic acid, ammonia, and water. Developing photocatalytic reactors for large-scale production is also a focus. Cortés and Herrán’s material solutions hold promise not only for hydrogen production but also for potential applications in converting CO2 into usable substances. Their research, already patented, underscores the importance of innovative approaches to harnessing sunlight’s potential for a cleaner and more sustainable energy future.Reference: “Plasmonic bimetallic two-dimensional supercrystals for H2 generation” by Matias Herran, Sabrina Juergensen, Moritz Kessens, Dominik Hoeing, Andrea Köppen, Ana Sousa-Castillo, Wolfgang J. Parak, Holger Lange, Stephanie Reich, Florian Schulz and Emiliano Cortés, 30 November 2023, Nature Catalysis.