Research + Discoveries

The Wiley Lab Makes Optically Transparent Water Oxidation Catalyst from Copper Nanowires

Solar-driven water splitting with photoelectrochemical cells is an attractive means to convert intermittent solar radiation into H2 for use as a storable, non-polluting fuel. However, photoelectrochemical cells often rely on a costly, fragile and electrochemically unstable material, indium tin oxide (ITO), as the transparent electrode. In addition, the water splitting catalyst deposited on ITO can obstruct the transmission of light to the dye or photovoltaic component. To address these limitations, the Wiley lab has developed an ITO replacement—copper nanowires coated with a shell of nickel or cobalt (Z. F. Chen, A. R. Rathmell, S. R. Ye, A. R. Wilson, B. J. Wiley, Angew. Chem. Int. Ed. 2013, DOI:10.1002/anie.201306585). The nanowires have the advantage of being made from an element that is 1,000 times more abundant and 100 times less expensive than indium, and can be deposited using liquid-phase coating processes that are up to 1,000 times faster than vapor-phase deposition of ITO. In addition, the core–shell nanowire networks exhibit electrocatalytic performance equivalent to metal oxide films of similar composition, but transmit up to 6.7 times more light. This work has been highlighted by C&EN, ChemistryViews, and a number of other news outlets.