Nanotechnology Now

Our NanoNews Digest Sponsors

Heifer International

Wikipedia Affiliate Button

Home > Press > Copper promises cheaper, sturdier fuel cells: Copper nanowires offer an efficient, inexpensive approach to solar energy harvesting

The copper nanowires, seen here with a nickel coating, can split water molecules under the power of sunlight.

Credit: Zuofeng Chen
The copper nanowires, seen here with a nickel coating, can split water molecules under the power of sunlight.

Credit: Zuofeng Chen

Abstract:
Copper adorns the Statue of Liberty, makes sturdy, affordable wiring, and helps our bodies absorb iron. Now, researchers at Duke University would like to use copper to transform sunlight and water into a chemical fuel.

Copper promises cheaper, sturdier fuel cells: Copper nanowires offer an efficient, inexpensive approach to solar energy harvesting

Durham, NC | Posted on November 22nd, 2013

Converting solar energy into storable fuel remains one of the greatest challenges of modern chemistry. One of the ways chemists have tried to capture the power of the sun is through water splitting, in which the atoms of H2O are broken apart so the hydrogen may be collected and used as fuel. Plants do this naturally through photosynthesis, and for half a century, scientists have tried to recreate that process by tinkering with chemical catalysts jumpstarted by sunlight.

Indium tin oxide (ITO) is one material they've commonly tried to use. Researchers prefer it for its transparency -- which allows sunlight to pass through and trigger the water-splitting reactions -- and its ability to conduct electricity. But ITO is far from an ideal material.

"Indium is not very abundant," said Ben Wiley, assistant professor of chemistry at Duke University. "It is similar in abundance to silver in the earth's crust." As a result, solar fuel cells using ITO will likely remain expensive and uncompetitive with conventional energy sources like coal and natural gas, he said.

Wiley's lab has created something they hope can replace ITO: copper nanowires fused in a see-through film. The team -- including two postdoctoral researchers, a graduate student, and a former graduate student from Duke -- published their new approach last month in the chemistry journal Angewandte Chemie.

Copper is 1000 times more plentiful and 100 times less expensive than indium. Copper nanowire catalysts also cost less to produce than their ITO counterparts because they can be "printed" on pieces of glass or plastic in a liquid ink form, using a machine that functions much like a printing press. ITO production, by contrast, requires large, sequential chambers of pumps and vacuums that deposit a thin layer of indium atoms at a far slower rate.

The copper nanowire films consist of networks of microscopic metal rods, the properties and applications of which Wiley's lab has studied for years. The nanowires provide a high surface area for catalyzing chemistry, and Wiley's team experimented with coating them in either cobalt or nickel -- metals that serve as the actual chemical catalyst. Even with a coat of cobalt or nickel, the nanowire films allow nearly seven times more sunlight to pass through than ITO. The films are also flexible, leading Wiley to imagine the completed fuel cells one day being attached to backpacks or cars.

In the meantime, engineering and chemistry challenges remain. The nanowire films carry out only one half of the water-splitting equation, a process called water oxidation. The other half of the reaction involves using the electrons obtained from water oxidation to reduce water to hydrogen. Wiley's team expects to publish their work on this process in the coming year.

"A lot of groups are working on putting together complete devices to generate fuels from sunlight," he said, but "the efficiencies and costs of these systems have to be improved for them to get to commercial [production]."

Wiley noted that solar energy production is just one application of the copper nanowire films they study. The nanowires also show promise for use in flexible touch screens, organic LED (or OLED) lights and smart glass.

###

This research was funded by the National Science Foundation Research Triangle Materials Research Science and Engineering Center (DMR-1121107), a National Science Foundation Faculty Early Career Development award (DMR-1253534) and a National Science Foundation graduate research fellowship.

CITATION: "Optically Transparent Water Oxidation Catalysts Based on Copper Nanowires," Zuofeng Chen, Aaron Rathmell, Shengrong Ye, Adria Wilson, Ben Wiley. Angewandte Chemie, October 18, 2013. 10.1002/ange.201306585.

####

For more information, please click here

Contacts:
Erin Weeks

919-681-8057

Copyright © Duke University

If you have a comment, please Contact us.

Issuers of news releases, not 7th Wave, Inc. or Nanotechnology Now, are solely responsible for the accuracy of the content.

Bookmark:
Delicious Digg Newsvine Google Yahoo Reddit Magnoliacom Furl Facebook

Related News Press

Thin films

Organic solar cells reach record efficiency, benchmark for commercialization April 23rd, 2018

High efficiency solar power conversion allowed by a novel composite material: A composite thin film developed at INRS improves significantly solar cells' power conversion efficiency April 10th, 2018

Researchers develop nanoparticle films for high-density data storage: April 3rd, 2018

News and information

Organic solar cells reach record efficiency, benchmark for commercialization April 23rd, 2018

Remote-control shoots laser at nano-gold to turn on cancer-killing immune cells April 20th, 2018

New qubit now works without breaks: A universal design for superconducting qubits has been created April 19th, 2018

Observing biological nanotransporters: Chemistry April 19th, 2018

Chemistry

Salt boosts creation of 2-D materials: Rice University scientists show how salt lowers reaction temperatures to make novel materials April 18th, 2018

Phononic SEIRA -- enhancing light-molecule interactions via crystal lattice vibrations April 10th, 2018

Govt.-Legislation/Regulation/Funding/Policy

Organic solar cells reach record efficiency, benchmark for commercialization April 23rd, 2018

Remote-control shoots laser at nano-gold to turn on cancer-killing immune cells April 20th, 2018

Salt boosts creation of 2-D materials: Rice University scientists show how salt lowers reaction temperatures to make novel materials April 18th, 2018

Quantum shift shows itself in coupled light and matter: Rice University scientists corral, quantify subtle movement in condensed matter system April 16th, 2018

Discoveries

Organic solar cells reach record efficiency, benchmark for commercialization April 23rd, 2018

Remote-control shoots laser at nano-gold to turn on cancer-killing immune cells April 20th, 2018

New qubit now works without breaks: A universal design for superconducting qubits has been created April 19th, 2018

Observing biological nanotransporters: Chemistry April 19th, 2018

Announcements

Organic solar cells reach record efficiency, benchmark for commercialization April 23rd, 2018

Remote-control shoots laser at nano-gold to turn on cancer-killing immune cells April 20th, 2018

New qubit now works without breaks: A universal design for superconducting qubits has been created April 19th, 2018

Observing biological nanotransporters: Chemistry April 19th, 2018

Interviews/Book Reviews/Essays/Reports/Podcasts/Journals/White papers

Organic solar cells reach record efficiency, benchmark for commercialization April 23rd, 2018

Remote-control shoots laser at nano-gold to turn on cancer-killing immune cells April 20th, 2018

New qubit now works without breaks: A universal design for superconducting qubits has been created April 19th, 2018

Observing biological nanotransporters: Chemistry April 19th, 2018

Energy

Organic solar cells reach record efficiency, benchmark for commercialization April 23rd, 2018

Psst! A whispering gallery for light boosts solar cells April 14th, 2018

High efficiency solar power conversion allowed by a novel composite material: A composite thin film developed at INRS improves significantly solar cells' power conversion efficiency April 10th, 2018

Light 'relaxes' crystal to boost solar cell efficiency: Rice, Los Alamos discovery advances case for perovskite-based solar cells April 6th, 2018

Automotive/Transportation

HTA to Present European Strategy for Competitive Micro- and Nanotechnologies & Smart Systems: Special Event in Brussels on April 24 Gathers Research Institutes’ CEOs, European Commissioners and Key European Industrials April 17th, 2018

CAP-XX Develops Industry’s First 3 Volt Thin Prismatic Supercapacitors: Provides peak power support to 3V coin cell batteries and eliminates need for 2.7V LDO regulator for less expensive, smaller, more energy-efficient designs with extended battery life April 11th, 2018

Mapping battery materials with atomic precision: Berkeley Lab researchers map the atoms of battery materials and explored how composition affects structure March 8th, 2018

GLOBALFOUNDRIES Strengthens 22FDX® eMRAM Platform with eVaderis’ Ultra-low Power MCU Reference Design: Co-developed technology solution enables significant power and die size reductions for IoT and wearable products February 27th, 2018

Fuel Cells

A new way to find better battery materials: Design principles could point to better electrolytes for next-generation lithium batteries March 29th, 2018

Rice sleuths find metal in 'metal-free' catalysts: Study of graphene catalysts finds trace of manganese, suggests better ultrathin fuel-cell components February 26th, 2018

Study boosts hope for cheaper fuel cells: Rice University researchers show how to optimize nanomaterials for fuel-cell cathodes January 6th, 2018

Hydrogen power moves a step closer: Physicists are developing methods of creating renewable fuel from water using quantum technology September 15th, 2017

Solar/Photovoltaic

Organic solar cells reach record efficiency, benchmark for commercialization April 23rd, 2018

Salt boosts creation of 2-D materials: Rice University scientists show how salt lowers reaction temperatures to make novel materials April 18th, 2018

Psst! A whispering gallery for light boosts solar cells April 14th, 2018

High efficiency solar power conversion allowed by a novel composite material: A composite thin film developed at INRS improves significantly solar cells' power conversion efficiency April 10th, 2018

NanoNews-Digest
The latest news from around the world, FREE



  Premium Products
NanoNews-Custom
Only the news you want to read!
 Learn More
NanoStrategies
Full-service, expert consulting
 Learn More











ASP
Nanotechnology Now Featured Books




NNN

The Hunger Project