Testing revolutionary materials for sustainable hydrogen production by solar energy



Greater Copenhagen area

Solar and wind energy technologies have made impressive progress in recent years, both in terms of power conversion efficiency and cost. Since those energy sources are inevitably intermittent due to the natural variations in weather, perhaps the greatest hurdle to the rise of renewable energy right now is the inadequacy of current energy storage technology. Ideally, energy must be both produced and stored without any contribution from fossil fuels.

The radical approach of this project is to produce and store energy simultaneously. This can be done by splitting water into hydrogen and oxygen gases. This reaction requires energy, which will be provided by the sun. Once the water has been split, energy is effectively stored in the gases for an indefinite amount of time. When the gases are brought together again and the reverse reaction occurs, the energy is released with the only “waste” product being water. This could all be enabled by a single water splitting device. The core of the device is a pair of semiconductor materials that must absorb light and transport the light-generated charge carriers towards the water. The energy provided by the excited carriers allows the reaction to take place.

Ideal semiconductor materials for water splitting have not been found yet by anyone. However, so far most people have simply tried to borrow well-known materials from other applications. As a more flexible approach, at DTU Physics we have computationally screened hundreds of potential candidate materials which have never been synthesized before. We have now selected a handful of those that exhibit the most favorable properties.

Your project will be to choose one of the candidate materials, synthesize it, and evaluate its feasibility as a light absorber for water splitting. You will be the first in the world to synthesize and test that material. If the results are promising, you will integrate your brand new material into a water splitting device (thereby saving the world - not bad!). In practice, this project takes you through all the phases of the prototyping cycle of a new optoelectronic material: synthesis of metallic thin film precursors by sputter deposition; formation of the targeted compound semiconductor by high-temperature treatment in a reactive gas; structural, compositional, optical, and electrical characterization by a variety of techniques; interaction with theoretical scientists.

We have all the equipment needed in-house, and we are already familiar with the prototyping cycle (I will be running a different candidate material in parallel during your project). You are welcome to come by my office (Building 312, Room 030) to discuss the project further. Students from other universities are also welcome to apply.

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Technical University of Denmark

For almost two centuries DTU, Technical University of Denmark, has been dedicated to fulfilling the vision of H.C. Ørsted – the father of electromagnetism – who founded the university in 1829 to develop and create value using the natural sciences and the technical sciences to benefit society.

Today, DTU is ranked as one of the foremost technical universities in Europe, continues to set new records in the number of publications, and persistently increases and develops our partnerships with industry, and assignments accomplished by DTU’s public sector consultancy.

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