27 April 2018 11:47

Physicist Professor Manus Hayne has been congratulated for his “extraordinary achievement” after his research paper was ranked in the top 100 most highly read articles in Nature Scientific Reports.

His paper ‘Photoelectrolysis Using Type-II Semiconductor Heterojunctions’ was selected as one of the top 100 read physics papers for the journal in 2017.

The Chief Editor Dr Richard White and Executive Editor Dr Suzanne Farley said: “Scientific Reports published more than 3000 physics papers in 2017, and so a position in the top 100 most highly read articles is an extraordinary achievement – your science is of real value to the research community.”

Professor Hayne’s research looked at developing methods of creating renewable fuel from water using quantum technology.

Renewable hydrogen can already be produced by photoelectrolysis where solar power is used to split water molecules into oxygen and hydrogen.

But, despite significant research effort over the past four decades, fundamental problems remain before this can be adopted commercially due to inefficiency and lack of cost-effectiveness.

Professor Hayne said: “For research to progress, innovation in both materials development and device design is clearly needed.”

The Lancaster study, which formed part of the PhD research of Dr Sam Harrison, provides the basis for further experimental work into the solar production of hydrogen as a renewable fuel.

It demonstrates that the novel use of nanostructures could increase the maximum photovoltage generated in a photoelectrochemical cell, increasing the productivity of splitting water molecules.

Professor Hayne said: “To the authors’ best knowledge, this system has never been investigated either theoretically or experimentally, and there is huge scope for further work to expand upon the results presented here.”

Fossil fuels accounted for almost 90% of energy consumption in 2015, with absolute demand still increasing due to a growing global population and increasing industrialisation.

“Fossil-fuel combustion releases carbon dioxide into the atmosphere, causing global climate change, and there is only a finite amount of them available for extraction. We clearly need to transition to a renewable and low-greenhouse-gas energy infrastructure, and renewable hydrogen is expected to play an important role.”

Photovoltaic solar cells are currently used to convert sunlight directly into electricity but solar hydrogen has the advantage that it is easily stored, so it can be used as and when needed.

Hydrogen is also very flexible, making it highly advantageous  for remote communities. It can be converted to electricity in a fuel cell, or burnt in a boiler or cooker just like natural gas. It can even be used to fuel aircraft.