Scientists have found a way to engineer the atomic-scale chemical properties of a water-splitting catalyst for integration with a solar cell, and the result is a big boost to the stability and efficiency of artificial photosynthesis.
The goal of this study was to strike a careful balance between the contradictory needs for efficient energy conversion and chemically sensitive electronic components to develop a viable system of artificial photosynthesis to generate clean fuel.
The researchers knew they needed a catalyst that could not only support active and efficient chemical reactions, but one that could also provide a stable interface with the semiconductor, allow the charge generated by the absorption of light from the semiconductor to be efficiently transferred to the sites doing catalysis, and permit as much light as possible to pass through.
They turned to a manufacturing technique called plasma-enhanced atomic layer deposition, performed at the Molecular Foundry at Berkeley Lab. This type of thin-film deposition is used in the semiconductor industry to manufacture integrated circuits.