A Nickel Finish Protects Silicon Photoanodes for Water Splitting

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Science  15 Nov 2013:
Vol. 342, Issue 6160, pp. 811-812
DOI: 10.1126/science.1246766

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The large-scale generation of hydrogen from water with sunlight could provide a sustainable source of this industrially important gas, but could also provide fuel for vehicles and a storage medium for solar energy. The direct photoelectrochemical (PEC) splitting of water into hydrogen and oxygen, which combines a photovoltaic cell and an electrolyzer into a single device, remains an important goal (1). One problem is that some of the materials that work well for photovoltaics, such as n-type silicon (Si), corrode in electrolyzer solutions. On page 836 of this issue, Kenney et al. (2) show that a 2-nm-thick nickel (Ni) film on an n-type silicon semiconductor not only provides some stability against corrosion when used for oxygen evolution in a PEC configuration, but also generates a high voltage via a metal-insulator-semiconductor (MIS) configuration.