Scientists at the University of Louisville and University of Kentucky have discovered that a common semiconductor along with a cheap metal alloy can use sunlight to split water to create hydrogen.
According to the University of Kentucky, “Using state-of-the-art theoretical computations, the UK-UofL team demonstrated that an alloy formed by a 2 percent substitution of antimony (Sb) in gallium nitride (GaN) has the right electrical properties to enable solar light energy to split water molecules into hydrogen and oxygen, a process known as photoelectrochemical (PEC) water splitting. When the alloy is immersed in water and exposed to sunlight, the chemical bond between the hydrogen and oxygen molecules in water is broken. The hydrogen can then be collected.”
The researchers say that gallium nitride has been used as semiconductor material for at least the past 15 years. Antimony (and is there a Cleopatrium also?) is commonly used in microelectronics. When combined, the GaN-Sb alloy is easy to produce, splits water efficiently and can be reused indefinitely, which is what a company would need when they go into high volume production.
Even though this process is still on the drawing boards, so to speak, it is worth speaking about since solar water to hydrogen production is a hot topic right now with hundreds if not thousands of researchers working on a solution all from different angles. If just one of these researchers makes a meaningful commercial breakthrough then this may be the “Holy Grail of Hydrogen” we’ve been seeking for decades now.