LightFuel's photoanode technology enables sunlight to produce hydrogen from water with less or even no electricity.
FoundersJohn M Guerra
Headquarters35 Beharrell St. Unit 1445
LightFuel Company was formed to develop and commercialize patented solar hydrogen production technology developed by Nanoptek Corporation. Over a decade, a team of international scientists, funded by N.A.S.A., U.S. Dept. of Energy, Massachusetts Renewable Energy Trust Fund, and venture capital from Quercus Trust and private investors, discovered that the bandgap of a semiconductor could be engineered to absorb more of the solar spectrum if the semiconductor was highly strained through growth onto a nano-structured template. Because the semiconductor, typically TiO2 (titanium dioxide or titania), is not doped, lifetime in caustic electrolytes is as long and robust as "normal" titania. Photoanodes produced in this way by Nanoptek have demonstrated a real-world on-roof lifetime of over 3 years while being cycled daily at the focus of a 20X solar concentrator; sampled performance after 3 years showed photocurrent within margin-of-error of the production coupon. Given the 20X concentrator, this is arguably equivalent to over 60 years of lifetime at one sun. Photoanodes are produced from inexpensive grade 1 titanium using an economical etch process to form the nanostructures that induce the strain for bandgap shift, and equally economical thermal oxidation is used to grow the strained titania film. Photoanode scale production has been demonstrated, with each photoanode typically 1 meter long and 9cm wide. Solar hydrogen generators can employ a single photoanode at the focus of a tracking optical concentrator, or panels comprising multiple photoanodes can be constructed for use at one sun.
While Nanoptek photoanodes will produce hydrogen from water in sunlight with zero electrical bias (we believe this to be a world record for a photoanode with lifetime greater than 30 minutes, never-mind 3 years), LightFuel has found that the photoanodes are better used to leverage sunlight to improve the performance of an MMO (mixed metal oxide) electro-catalytic anode. In this way the photoanode works to bias the cathode that is shared with the MMO anode, such that the combined hydrogen output of the photoanode and MMO anode is synergistic and significantly greater, in sunlight, for a given unit of electrical power, than for a conventional alkaline or PEM electrolyzer using that same unit of electrical power.
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