Turning Solar Energy into Electricity with Laser Printing

Until now, the process of producing nanomaterials based on copper, cobalt and nickel oxides has required a great amount of energy and time. But this might be coming to an end soon thanks to a team from the Max Planck Institute of Colloids and Interfaces.

Sustainability has become an integral part of every aspect of life and is becoming increasingly essential in industry as well. Thus, the development of many new technologies is primarily about saving not only time, but also energy. With the first laser-guided technology that allows for the production of nanoparticles based on nickel, cobalt and copper oxides, introduced in the Nature Communications journal, researchers at the Max Planck Institute of Colloids and Interfaces have just achieved such a success. Their discovery has the potential of becoming an eco-friendly method for synthesising materials that can, among other things, efficiently turn solar energy into electrical power.

The Perfect Catalysts: Copper, Cobalt and Nickel Oxides

With the new laser-assisted technology it is possible to deposit small amounts of material on a surface very quickly while simultaneously performing chemical synthesis at high temperatures from the laser.

For this purpose, a solid polymer mixed with metal salts is transferred from a donor to an acceptor carrier, which consists of a thin carbon nitride layer on a conductive electrode, by means of targeted laser irradiation. The briefly high temperatures generated in the process lead to the salts reacting within milliseconds and transforming into metal oxide nanoparticles with the intended morphology.

Since copper, cobalt and nickel oxides have diverse crystal shapes that influence their surface energy and are therefore excellent catalysts, they are the focus of the newly developed principle. The important thing is that their nanostructures can be produced in a targeted – or at least in a repeatable – way. 

Straight to Hydrogen with Sunlight

The first author of the study, Junfang Zhang, was enthusiastic about his finding right from the start:

“When I discovered the nanocrystals under the electron microscope, I knew I was onto something big.”

And he was right. At the standard printing speed photoelectrodes suitable for a variety of applications such as the production of green hydrogen can be fabricated with this method.

“Nowadays most of green hydrogen is produced from water using electricity generated by solar panels and stored in batteries. By employing photoelectrodes we can use solar light directly”

explains Zhang’s colleague Dr. Aleksandr Savateev 

The developed technology might also be a tool for finding new catalysts quickly and efficiently. But before 

“we need to work on making the catalyst systems more persistent in all applications”

is what co-author Dr Felix Löffler has planned for the future.

What do you think? Does this new laser-driven technology have a future?