While renewable energy sources such as solar are promising, a new approach from researchers at the University of Wisconsin-Madison using photoelectrochemical solar cells could combine solar energy and biomass conversion, allowing solar energy to be stored for future use.
The method uses a new type of reaction that requires less energy and time than the typical water oxidation – the new electrochemical method achieves the same results at room temperature and ambient pressure that previously had to be done using high-pressure oxygen. The researchers’ anode reaction produces hydrogen at the cathode, demonstrating that solar energy can be used for biomass conversion by oxidizing 5-hydroxymethylfurfural, an intermediate in biomass conversion that can be derived from cellulose, with 2,4-furandicarboxylic acid (FDCA) , an important molecule used in the production of polymers.
The new method not only produces FDCA, but also cuts the production cost of hydrogen, promising new possibilities for development in both solar and biomass conversion. The researchers expect that the development of more efficient electrochemical and solar-driven biomass conversion processes will increase the efficiency and utility of solar-fuel-producing photoelectrochemical cells.