Photoelectrochemical cell

From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia
Jump to navigation Jump to search

Photoelectrochemical cells, or PECs, are solar cells that produce electrical energy or hydrogen in a process similar to the electrolysis of water.

Photogeneration cell[edit]

Photogeneration cell band diagram

This type of cell electrolizes water to hydrogen and oxygen gas by irradiating the anode with electromagnetic radiation. This has been referred to as artificial photosynthesis and has been suggested as a way of storing solar energy in hydrogen for use as fuel.[1]

Incoming sunlight excites free electrons near the surface of the silicon electrode. These electrons flow through wires to the stainless steel electrode, where four of them react with four water molecules to form two molecules of hydrogen and 4 OH groups. The OH groups flow through the liquid electrolyte to the surface of the silicon electrode. There they react with the four holes associated with the four photoelectrons, the result being two water molecules and an oxygen molecule. Illuminated silicon immediately begins to corrode under contact with the electrolytes. The corrosion consumes material and disrupts the properties of the surfaces and interfaces within the cell.[2]

Two types of photochemical systems operate via photocatalysis. One uses semiconductor surfaces as catalysts. In these devices the semiconductor surface absorbs solar energy and acts as an electrode for water splitting. The other methodology uses in-solution metal complexes as catalysts.[3][4]

Photogeneration cells have passed the 10 percent economic efficiency barrier. Corrosion of the semiconductors remains an issue, given their direct contact with water.[5] Research is now ongoing to reach a service life of 10000 hours, a requirement established by the United States Department of Energy.[6]

Grätzel cell[edit]

Dye-sensitized solar cells or Grätzel cells use dye-adsorbed highly porous nanocrystalline titanium dioxide (nc-TiO
) to produce electrical energy.


PECs convert light energy into electricity within a two-electrode cell. In theory, three arrangements of photo-electrodes in the assembly of PECs exist:[7]

  • photo-anode made of a n-type semiconductor and a metal cathode
  • photo-anode made of a n-type semiconductor and a photo-cathode made of a p-type semiconductor
  • photo-cathode made of a p-type semiconductor and a metal anode

The two basic requirements for materials used as photo-electrodes are optical function, required to obtain maximal absorption of solar energy, and catalytic function, required for other reactions such as water decomposition.


and other metal oxides are most prominent[8] for efficiency reasons. Including SrTiO
and BaTiO
,[9] this kind of semiconducting titanates, the conduction band has mainly titanium 3d character and the valence band oxygen 2p character. The bands are separated by a wide band gap of at least 3 eV, so that these materials absorb only UV radiation. Change of the TiO
microstructure has also been investigated to further improve the performance, such as TiO
nanowire arrays or porous nanocrystalline TiO
photoelectrochemical cells.[10]


GaN is another option, because metal nitrides usually have a narrow band gap that could encompass almost the entire solar spectrum.[11] GaN has a narrower band gap than TiO
but is still large enough to allow water splitting to occur at the surface. GaN nanowires exhibited better performance than GaN thin films, because they have a larger surface area and have a high single crystallinity which allows longer electron-hole pair lifetimes.[12] Meanwhile, other non-oxide semiconductors such as GaAs, MoS
, WSe
and MoSe
are used as n-type electrode, due to their stability in chemical and electrochemical steps in the photocorrosion reactions.[13]


In 2013 a cell with 2 nanometers of nickel on a silicon electrode, paired with a stainless steel electrode, immersed in an aqueous electrolyte of potassium borate and lithium borate operated for 80 hours without noticeable corrosion, versus 8 hours for titanium dioxide. In the process, about 150 ml of hydrogen gas was generated, representing the storage of about 2 kilojoules of energy.[2][14]


In 1967, Akira Fujishima discovered the Honda-Fujishima effect, (the photocatalytic properties of titanium dioxide).

See also[edit]


  1. ^ John A. Turner; et al. (2007-05-17). "Photoelectrochemical Water Systems for H2 Production" (PDF). National Renewable Energy Laboratory. Archived from the original (PDF) on 2011-06-11. Retrieved 2011-05-02.
  2. ^ a b "Silicon/nickel water splitter could lead to cheaper hydrogen". Retrieved 2013-12-29.
  3. ^ Berinstein, Paula (2001-06-30). Alternative energy: facts, statistics, and issues. Greenwood Publishing Group. ISBN 1-57356-248-3. Another photoelectrochemical method involves using dissolved metal complexes as a catalyst, which absorbs energy and creates an electric charge separation that drives the water-splitting reaction.
  4. ^ Deutsch, T. G.; Head, J. L.; Turner, J. A. (2008). "Photoelectrochemical Characterization and Durability Analysis of GaInPN Epilayers". Journal of the Electrochemical Society. 155 (9): B903. doi:10.1149/1.2946478.
  5. ^ Brad Plummer (2006-08-10). "A Microscopic Solution to an Enormous Problem". SLAC Today. SLAC National Accelerator Laboratory. Retrieved 2011-05-02.
  6. ^ Wang, H.; Deutsch, T.; Turner, J. A. A. (2008). "Direct Water Splitting Under Visible Light with a Nanostructured Photoanode and GaInP2 Photocathode". ECS Transactions. 6: 37. doi:10.1149/1.2832397.
  7. ^ Tryk, D.; Fujishima, A; Honda, K (2000). "Recent topics in photoelectrochemistry: achievements and future prospects". Electrochimica Acta. 45 (15–16): 2363–2376. doi:10.1016/S0013-4686(00)00337-6.
  8. ^ A. Fujishima, K. Honda, S. Kikuchi, Kogyo Kagaku Zasshi 72 (1969) 108–113
  9. ^ De Haart, L.; De Vries, A. J.; Blasse, G. (1985). "On the photoluminescence of semiconducting titanates applied in photoelectrochemical cells". Journal of Solid State Chemistry. 59 (3): 291–300. Bibcode:1985JSSCh..59..291D. doi:10.1016/0022-4596(85)90296-8.
  10. ^ Cao, F.; Oskam, G.; Meyer, G. J.; Searson, P. C. (1996). "Electron Transport in Porous Nanocrystalline TiO2Photoelectrochemical Cells". The Journal of Physical Chemistry. 100 (42): 17021–17027. doi:10.1021/jp9616573.
  11. ^ Wang, D.; Pierre, A.; Kibria, M. G.; Cui, K.; Han, X.; Bevan, K. H.; Guo, H.; Paradis, S.; Hakima, A. R.; Mi, Z. (2011). "Wafer-Level Photocatalytic Water Splitting on GaN Nanowire Arrays Grown by Molecular Beam Epitaxy". Nano Letters. 11 (6): 2353–2357. Bibcode:2011NanoL..11.2353W. doi:10.1021/nl2006802. PMID 21568321.
  12. ^ Jung, Hye Song; Young Joon Hong, Yirui Li, Jeonghui Cho, Young-Jin Kim, Gyu-Chui Yi (2008). "Photocatalysis Using GaN Nanowires". ACS Nano. 2 (4): 637–642. doi:10.1021/nn700320y.CS1 maint: Multiple names: authors list (link)
  13. ^ Kline, G.; Kam, K.; Canfield, D.; Parkinson, B. (1981). "Efficient and stable photoelectrochemical cells constructed with WSe2 and MoSe2 photoanodes". Solar Energy Materials. 4 (3): 301–308. doi:10.1016/0165-1633(81)90068-X.
  14. ^ Kenney, M. J.; Gong, M.; Li, Y.; Wu, J. Z.; Feng, J.; Lanza, M.; Dai, H. (2013). "High-Performance Silicon Photoanodes Passivated with Ultrathin Nickel Films for Water Oxidation". Science. 342 (6160): 836–840. Bibcode:2013Sci...342..836K. doi:10.1126/science.1241327. PMID 24233719.

External links[edit]