Various researchers have gotten most of the way there only to get hung up on that little word, “cheap,” but a new study has revealed a pathway that could result in a cost-effective solution.
We’re calling this device an “artificial leaf” but to be more precise, it’s a photoelectrochemical (PEC) cell. In contrast to a photovoltaic cell, which converts light to electricity, a PEC cell collects photons and converts them to energetic electrons, which touch off a chemical reaction splitting water into hydrogen and oxygen gas.
One main hurdle has been the development of a catalyst that is efficient enough, and cheap enough, for such a device to hit a reasonable price point. Plenty of high-efficiency catalysts abound, relatively speaking, but they are far too expensive to make sense.