My Thoughts on Technology and Jamaica: Professor Dr. Roel van de Krol develops Artificial Photosynthesis using Bismuth Vanadate coated Solar Panels

Tuesday, August 27, 2013

Professor Dr. Roel van de Krol develops Artificial Photosynthesis using Bismuth Vanadate coated Solar Panels

“Basically, we combined the best of both worlds. We start with a chemically stable, low cost metal Oxide, add a really good but simple silicon-based thin film Solar cell, and -- voilà -- we've just created a cost-effective, highly stable, and highly efficient Solar fuel device”

Prof. Dr. Roel van de Krol, head of the HZB Institute for Solar Fuels on the development of Artificial Photosynthesis using Bismuth Vanadate (BiVO4) coated Solar Panels

Photosynthesis is a process by which plants take Solar Radiation and use it to convert Carbon diOxide and Water into Glucose, with Oxygen as the by-product. Earlier in March 2013, Dr Michael Adams of the University of Georgia’s Bio-Energy Systems Research Institute and his team were able to successfully bio-engineer a bacterium, Pyrococcusfuriosus, to convert atmospheric CO2 into Bio-fuel as stated in my blog article entitled “Pyrococcusfuriosus Bacterium Bio-engineered by University of Georgia’s to convert Carbon DiOxide to Bio-fuel - Carbon Sequestering profitable  Hunger Games Catching Fire”.

Now we’re getting close with the recent development of a Solar System that can use Solar Radiation to convert Water into Hydrogen and Oxygen in a more efficient form of Electrolysis called Artificial Photosynthesis as described in “The best of two worlds: Solar hydrogen production breakthrough”, published Jul 29, 2013,

It’s pretty much the same as using Solar Panels to split water into Hydrogen and Oxygen. Under those conditions, the water chose is usually deionized water to reduce the formation of salts at the Anode (+) and Cathode (-), usually inert Platinum Electrodes. It differs in this case as the Anode and Cathode are instead on the surface of the Solar Panel. Also instead of being made of thin plates of platinum, the Anode is made of Bismuth Vanadate (BiVO4) coated with a protective coating of Cobalt Phosphate (CoPO4) catalyst with a Platinum wire Cathode.

A Graphite bridge is used to connect the Anode to the standard Solar Panel, which is made of the usual doped Silicon (Si) coated with protective Glass. The circuit is completed as shown below:

This improves the electrolysis process, as the Solar Panel is now in direct contact with the water instead of generating Electricity solely for the purpose of splitting Water. The Cobalt Phosphate (CoPO4) catalyst, which is sprayed onto the 300nm thick layer of Bismuth Vanadate (BiVO4), helps to improve the efficiency of the production of Oxygen at the Anode and protect the Solar Panel from corrosion, as it’s sprayed on as a very thin Nano-particulate layer.

In essence, this makes the Anode a Nano-Electrode. Wolfram Atoms or basically Nano-particles of Tungsten (W), being as Wolfram is an older name for the Transition Metal and the explanation for it’s symbol W as noted in Tungsten or Wolfram Facts, By Anne Marie Helmenstine, Ph.D, viewed August 27 2013,

Nano-particles of Tungsten (W) Atoms are added to make the Bismuth Vanadate (BiVO4) more reactive and reduce electron-proton charge recombination and more efficient flow of free electrons, to quote Professor Dr. Roel van de Krol: “What's important is that we distribute these wolfram atoms in a very specific way so that they can set up an internal electric field, which helps to prevent recombination”.

This impressive process only uses 5% of the total Electricity generates and can reach as high as 9%, leaving the other 95% for use to power the Electrical system of the house. Thanks to the new design using an Anode made of Bismuth Vanadate (BiVO4) coated with Cobalt Phosphate (CoPO4) catalyst.

In addition to this, 80% of the incident photons contribute to the Electricity generated, a record for any Oxide, to quote Professor Dr. Roel van de Krol: “We don't really understand quite yet why Bismuth Vanadate works so much better than other metal Oxides. We found that more than 80 percent of the incident photons contribute to the current, an unexpectedly high value that sets a new record for metal Oxides”.

Thus the Hydrogen produced at the Platinum Cathode can be stored and used in Hydrogen Fuel Cells to provide power at night, in a sense paving the way to eliminating batteries to store Electricity even as it powers the house. This as the 5%-9% of Electrical Energy stored as Hydrogen Gas can be reused at night or on cloud days, for which the problem of storing Hydrogen Gas becomes a problem.

To give you an idea what this means in practical terms, 600W per square meter, which is the average Power generated by Solar Panels in Germany’s translates to 60 KW of power generated from 100 square meter Solar Panels of which 5% is 3 KW of power, enough to split hydrogen which when stored can be accessed during the night or on very cloudy day via a Hydrogen Fuel cell or used directly for Heating and Cooking.

Ironically, scientists here in Jamaica at the University of Technology and the University of the West Indies are working on, but with the intention to replace imported LPG (Liquid Petroleum Gas) Cooking Cylinders as explained in my blog article entitled UTECH partners with GOJ and UWI to develope Hydrogen Cooking Gas Cylinders - EU Funded 3 Year Project is Chasing Mavericks to push Jamaica into the Hydrogen-Electron Economy”.

Most likely the platinum Electrodes may be a fine gauze mesh of platinum instead of the thin sheets normally used so as to allow the sunlight to pass through. Or even better, it may be the same plates of platinum but instead sprayed on a Glass plate, making this still a very expensive Electrolysis process.

Possibly this can be replaced with a Glass plate with sprayed on Nano-particles of Platinum or Silver to create a Glass Electrode. This would allow the Solar Panels to thus function by being place flat like regular Solar Panels and allowing the water to flow over its surface via gravity fed water source with the Hydrogen formed being collected.

Such a process is truly a breakthrough, as it makes the production of Hydrogen Gas for use in Fuel Cells or other forms of Energy Storage very efficient using a minimum of Electricity generated and improved Electrodes. Thus it is with in mind that I’d recommend collaboration between Professor Dr. Roel van de Krol of the HZB Institute for Solar Fuels as well as the lecturers at the University of the West Indies and the University of Technology.

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