For decades, researchers have searched for ways to use solar power to generate the key reaction for producing hydrogen as a clean energy source—splitting water molecules to form hydrogen and oxygen. But such efforts have mostly failed because doing it well was too costly, and trying to do it at a low cost led to poor performance. Now, researchers from The University of Texas at Austin have found a low-cost way to solve one half of the equation, using sunlight to efficiently split off oxygen molecules from water. The key to this breakthrough came through a method of creating electrically conductive paths through a thick silicon dioxide layer that involves arrays of nanoscale "spikes" of aluminum and that can be performed at low cost and scaled to high manufacturing volumes.
(Funded by the National Science Foundation)