Photoelectrochemical Materials Research

NREL's photoelectrochemical (PEC) materials research focuses on proton exchange membrane (PEM) electrolysis materials and catalysts.

Proton Exchange Membrane Electrolysis Materials

Images of sputter deposition on heated substrate, X-ray photoelectron spectroscopy, and rotating disc electrode measurements.

Our electrolysis materials research pursues platinum group metal-free catalysts to reduce the cost of PEM fuel cells while retaining high performance. Understanding catalysts with a heterogenous structure is limited by information depth and spatial resolution of common characterization techniques. We use sputtered thin films as a promising model system to study the oxygen evolution reaction active sites, in conjunction with surface analysis and electrocatalytic performance measurements, because of their potentially smooth and homogenous surface.

For more information, see X-Ray Photoelectron Spectroscopy and Rotating Disk Electrode Measurements of Smooth Sputtered Fe-N-C Films, Applied Surface Science (2020).

Photoelectrochemical Catalysts

Chart measuring PEC catalysts

Our PEC catalyst research focuses on using established semiconductor processing techniques to improve structural quality and increase performance of new materials for water splitting and solar fuel production using photoelectrochemical methods. We also discover new materials for these (photo)electrochemical applications, mainly focused on the development of new photocathodes with improved selectivity for hydrogen or carbon dioxide reduction, as well as complementary photoanodes.

For more information, see the following publications: 

MgxZn1-xO Contact to CuGa3Se5 Absorber for Photovoltaic and Photoelectrochemical Devices, Journal of Physics: Energy (2021)

Design of Semiconducting Tetrahedral Mn1−xZnxOAlloys and Their Application to Solar Water Splitting, Phys. Rev. X (2015).


NREL's work on photoelectrocatalytic and electrocatalytic materials research for sustainable hydrogen production and utilization is funded by the U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) Office of Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy, Hydrogen and Fuel Cell Technologies Office. The work on photoelectrocatalytic materials research for carbon dioxide reduction is funded by DOE's Office of Science, Basic Energy Sciences.

Inspired by photosynthesis in plants, we are designing materials that can convert sunlight into chemical energy using only components of air: water and carbon dioxide. The Liquid Sunlight Alliance is one of two projects in the Fuels from Sunlight Energy Innovation Hub funded by the DOE Office of Science, Basic Energy Sciences.
HydroGEN is a consortium of six DOE national laboratories that will address advanced water-splitting materials challenges by making unique, world-class national lab capabilities in photoelectrochemical, solar thermochemical, and low- and high-temperature electrolytic water splitting more accessible to academia, industry, and other national labs.
ElectroCat's national laboratory partners advance the tools needed to model, characterize, and optimize platinum group metal-free -catalysts and electrode structures to the point that they are easily applied to a broad range of catalyst systems and set a standard for rapid material analysis.