David Ayme-Perrot introducing IPVF Programme 5: solar-to-fuel

23 March 2020
IPVF is a public-private partnership dedicated to accelerating energy transition through science & technology. The core values of IPVF are Excellence, Innovation, Collaboration. Its collaborative research initiative brings together internationally recognized academic research teams and industrial leaders. It is structured into 6 programmes.

 

Programme 5 is dedicated to solar-to-fuel.

 

Producing Hydrogen from solar cells

Among the different scientific programs of IPVF, the new program V dedicated to “Solar to fuels” is coming! At the crossroads of several expertise areas, its aims at developing photoelectrochemical cells capable of producing hydrogen, among others. At the same time, it paves the way for the implementation of renewable fuels. David Aymé-Perrot, head of the project, explains the objectives of this new program.

How do you work on this program? What are your objectives?

This program requires the combination of several areas of expertise: the science of photovoltaic materials, electrochemistry and catalysis. The main objective consists in creating photoelectrochemical cells capable of producing “green” fuels, given the raw materials that are considered (water, CO2), and the energy source used, namely light. First, we chose to focus on the generation of hydrogen. This molecule, the smallest one, has an enormous potential in the future, both as an energy carrier and as a reducing agent in chemistry.

By such a process, we can directly generate molecules from light energy. Various fuels can potentially be produced by the photoelectrochemical route. First, we can therefore generate hydrogen within a water electrolysis cell powered by solar energy. It’s about being able to recover enough photonic energy to dissociate the water molecule into hydrogen and oxygen. To be more precise, by an adequate combination of PV cells or photoactive molecules, we can generate sufficient electrical potential to reduce the proton of water into hydrogen and oxidize water into oxygen.

Furthermore, today, the reduction of CO2 emissions becomes a priority for mankind in the hope of reducing our impact on the climate. CO2 is a very stable molecule (this is why it remains present in our atmosphere) but it could be a valuable raw material. By definition, breaking such a molecule to produce new molecules of interest is a very energy-consuming process. A particularly attractive approach then consists of photoelectro-reduction of CO2. It will be possible of using this waste as a source of the chemistry of tomorrow, through electrochemistry coupled with solar.

The choice of catalysts is an essential element in order to hope to efficiently produce the targeted molecules. The heart of the approach is obviously to maximize the overall conversion efficiency (from the photon to the molecule), so as to develop technically-economically viable solutions.

As part of the program, we will therefore focus on the best possible coupling between photoactive systems, catalysts and original cell design.

Why did you get involved in this IPVF program?

Because the theme “Solar to Fuels” is fascinating! It is definitely a complex technological brick to develop, combining solar materials with those of electrochemistry. It is up to us to face this challenge by being original and pragmatic in order to hope to develop industrializable solar fuels.

We have within the IPVF several programs for the development of very promising photovoltaic cells (called tandem cells). Typically, this type of solution could potentially be integrated into our program to seek to improve the performance of our systems. Thanks to the various expertise present at IPVF in materials science and the transversality between projects, we have the whole ecosystem necessary for the development of the project.

What is your background in R & D in the solar field?

Above all, I must say that I am not an expert in photovoltaics. As a collaborator at Total, my first experience is electrochemistry applied to energy storage. I also have a PhD in energy electrochemistry. This program is at the crossroads between it and the field of photovoltaics.

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