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New nanocrystals let solar panels generate electricity ... and hydrogen gas


August 28, 2012

Scientists have developed new nanocrystals that allow solar panels to generate both electricity and hydrogen gas (Photo: Shutterstock)

Scientists have developed new nanocrystals that allow solar panels to generate both electricity and hydrogen gas (Photo: Shutterstock)

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At first glance, photovoltaic solar panels are brilliant. They’re self-contained, need no fuel and so long as the sun is shining, they make lots of lovely electricity. The trouble is, they’re expensive to make, batteries are poor storage systems for cloudy days, and the panels have a very short service life. Now, Dr. Mikhail Zamkov of Ohio's Bowling Green State University and his team have used synthetic nanocrystals to make solar panels more durable as well as capable of producing hydrogen gas.

Solar panels using inorganic molecules as part of their construction have a short service life. The effects of UV radiation and heat degrade them, and they end up with a life of only about 20 years. Given how expensive it is to make solar panels, it’s not surprising that the cost per kilowatt is so much higher than conventional energy sources. In a video paper published in the Journal of Visualized Experiments (JoVE), Zamkov outlines his team’s process that involves replacing the organic molecules with two inorganic nanocrystals made from zinc selenide and cadmium sulfide, with a platinum catalyst added.

Structure of the nanocrystal (Image: Bowling Green State University)

According to Zamkov, "The main advantage of this technique is that it allows for direct, all inorganic coupling of the light absorber and the catalyst." In other words, these are very durable crystals compared to their organic counterparts. Not only are they less susceptible to heat and UV radiation, they also don’t suffer from degradation problems that plague their organic counterparts – where those are often irreversibly “poisoned” while in service, the nanocrystals can be recharged with a methanol wash.

The other advantage is that the nanocrystals don’t just generate electricity, they produce hydrogen gas as well. When immersed in water and exposed to light, the rod-shaped cadmium sulfide nanocrystal breaks down the water into hydrogen and oxygen.

Meanwhile, the nanocrystal – that is composed of stacked layers of zinc selenide – is photovoltaic and generates electricity. With this dual capacity, a panel made with the nanocrystals would not only generate power during the day, but also hydrogen to run a fuel cell at night.

Source: Journal of Visualized Experiments

About the Author
David Szondy David Szondy is a freelance writer based in Monroe, Washington. An award-winning playwright, he has contributed to Charged and iQ magazine and is the author of the website Tales of Future Past. All articles by David Szondy

Solar panels using inorganic molecules as part of their construction have a short service life.

Tony Smale

What is the total and hydrogen verse electricity efficiency of these new cells?

I am not convinced that fuel cells are the cost effective solution for converting hydrogen into electricity. ICE will let you burn other fuels as well at almost no additional capital cost.


I see little worthwhile here. Saying PV that only last 20 yrs is short lived is rather rich. And since PV panels now sell well shopped retail at $1k/kw it not only costs less than even retail NG power. Paybacks are now in the 3-5 yr range with 15-20 yrs of free, non poluting and not rising price vs costly power from utilities always going up.

One of many PV sources is sunelec.com and good to compare prices against your local sources.

Next their ignorance about batteries again leads one to doubt the rest. Lead batteries cost about $10/kwhr/yr, any one only needs 4-10kw of them to run an eff home for 24-48 hrs. Since most will hook up to the grid to sell expensive peak power to it, both from the batteries charged cheaply overnight and the solar being made when needed most, can even be a nice income instead of paying a utility bill. And this pays for the battery cost too while making a nice profit.

These people by misinforming people about present solar /generation costs does no one any good.


re; Slowburn

You forgot to mention the high cost of fuel cells and how easily they are poisoned.


20 years? Solarex installed 200 kW of panels on their Solar Breeder in Frederick, Maryland in 1982. A couple of years ago they were re-tested and found to still be within original manufacturing tolerances. These old antiques have more than paid for them themselves over the last three decades even given their high original costs.


Make this material flexible and fasten them in sheets to the roofs of new automobiles to make a new hybrid, hydrogen, electric cars : ) Now go and build them!

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