Y. Kageshima, T. Shinagawa, T. Kuwata, J. Nakata, T. Minegishi, K. Takanabe, K. Domen
Reports 6, Article number: 24633, (2016)
A novel “photovoltaics (PV) + electrolyzer” concept is presented using a simple, small, and completely stand-alone non-biased device for solar-driven overall water splitting. Three or four spherical-shaped p-n junction silicon balls were successfully connected in series, named “SPHELAR.” SPHELAR possessed small projected areas of 0.20 (3PVs) and 0.26 cm2 (4PVs) and exhibited working voltages sufficient for water electrolysis. Impacts of the configuration on the PV module performance were carefully analyzed, revealing that a drastic increase in the photocurrent (≈20%) was attained by the effective utilization of a reflective sheet. Separate investigations on the electrocatalyst performance showed that non-noble metal based materials with reasonably small sizes (<0.80 cm2) exhibited substantial currents at the PV working voltage. By combining the observations of the PV characteristics, light management and electrocatalyst performance, solar-driven overall water splitting was readily achieved, reaching solar-to-hydrogen efficiencies of 7.4% (3PVs) and 6.4% (4PVs).