Discovery Brightens Solar's Future, Energy Costs to Be Cut

by Reuters /

How Do Solar Panels Work?

April 21, 201500:44

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Scientists in Switzerland announced a clean-energy breakthrough on Wednesday; a cheaper, solar technology that splits water molecules to create clean-burning hydrogen fuel.

The solar panel design will make it cheaper to produce hydrogen, but a simple version won't be available for average citizens for at least 10 years, scientists said.

Splitting water molecules to create hydrogen allows the sun's energy to be more easily stored to generate electricity or power clean cars.

How Do Solar Panels Work?

April 21, 201500:44

The discovery has major implications for climate change, as improved solar energy would reduce fossil fuel dependence.

Previous solar hydrogen technologies were too expensive to commercialize, scientists from the Ecole Polytechnique Federale de Lausanne said in their article appearing in the journal "Nature Communications". "We want to convert solar energy into hydrogen in an economically competitive way," Kevin Sivula, one of the report's authors, told the Thomson Reuters Foundation.

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The new solar panel looks similar to the traditional version mounted on rooftops, except sunlight first passes through a thin layer of water contained inside the device. Tungsten diselenide, a non-toxic chemical, acts as a photocatalyst and is critical for using the sun's energy to split water into oxygen and hydrogen.

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