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Solar energy-harvesting “nanotrees” could produce hydrogen fuel on a mass scale

• http://www.gizmag.com, By Darren Quick
 

While hydrogen is considered a "clean" fuel because the only waste product it generates is water, the conventional way to produce it relies on electricity, which is usually produced through the burning of fossil fuels. Researchers at the University of California, San Diego (UCSD), have now developed a "3D branched nanowire array" that they claim could cheaply and cleanly deliver hydrogen fuel on a mass scale.

The nanowires, which are made from abundant natural materials such as silicon and zinc oxide, mimic the structure of a forest of trees, with individual vertical "trees" sprouting hundreds of nano-sized "branches." Like forests, this structure maximizes the amount of solar energy that can be captured, with the vertical structures trapping and absorbing the light, while the flat surfaces reflect it.
 
Using this nanotree structure, the researchers were able to maximize the amount of solar energy captured for use in producing hydrogen in a process called photoelectrochemical water-splitting.

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