A simple insulating layer atop the panel keeps the temperature at a toasty 75 degrees Celsius, or 167 degrees Fahrenheit, warm enough to help encourage the reaction while also being cool enough for the semiconductor catalyst to perform well. The outdoor version of the experiment, with less reliable sunlight and temperature, achieved 6.1% efficiency at turning the energy from the sun into hydrogen fuel. However, indoors, the system achieved 9% efficiency.

The next challenges the team intends to tackle are to further improve the efficiency and to achieve ultrahigh purity hydrogen that can be directly fed into fuel cells.

Some of the intellectual property related to this work has been licensed to NS Nanotech Inc. and NX Fuels Inc., which were co-founded by Mi. The University of Michigan and Mi have a financial interest in both companies.

This work was supported by the National Science Foundation, the Department of Defense, the Michigan Translational Research and Commercialization Innovation Hub, the Blue Sky Program in the College of Engineering at the University of Michigan, and by the Army Research Office.