A Record in Converting Photons to Fuel

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Science  17 Apr 1998:
Vol. 280, Issue 5362, pp. 382
DOI: 10.1126/science.280.5362.382

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Using solar energy to split water into oxygen and hydrogen would create a clean, powerful fuel. But the process is inefficient and expensive, because the two steps involved--generating electricity from sunlight and using it to split water--normally take place in separate devices, and energy is lost in between. Now, on page 425, researchers at the National Renewable Energy Laboratory have come up with a single device that accomplishes both tasks without using any additional external energy and which has set a world record in efficiency for converting photons to fuel. The new device appears to be efficient and stable, but because the materials are expensive, the researchers estimate that it would produce hydrogen at three times the cost of the cheapest method for bulk production.