Miguel Modestino (left), Joel Ager (middle) and Rachel Segalman (right) with their irst fully integrated microfluidic test-bed for evaluating and optimizing solar-driven electrochemical energy conversion systems  (Source: Roy Kaltschmidt; Berkeley Lab)
According to the team, the design of their test-bed allows pretty much any photoelectrochemical component to be incorporated into it

Berkeley researchers are experimenting with artificial photosynthesis using their newly-developed microfluidic test-bed. 

The study was conducted by Berkeley Lab researchers working at the Joint Center for Artificial Photosynthesis (JCAP), which is a a multi-institutional partnership led by the California Institute of Technology (Caltech) and Berkeley Lab with operations in Berkeley and Pasadena. 

The study was led by Joel Ager and Rachel Segalman, staff scientists with Berkeley Lab’s Materials Sciences Division.

The team created the first fully integrated microfluidic test-bed for assessing and optimizing solar-driven electrochemical energy conversion systems. The idea behind the invention is to test energy conversion methods on the micro-scale before applying them to large-scale systems.  

According to the study, one hour’s worth of global sunlight gives enough energy to meet all human needs for a year. This is a huge plus for solar technologies as an alternative to fossil fuels, but so far, the problem has been creating efficient ways to convert solar energy into electrochemical energy on a large scale. That's what the new test-bed has set out to help. 

This is how it works: the microfluidic test-bed integrates and electronically evaluates different anode and cathode materials independently by way of macroscopic contacts arranged on the outside of a microfabricated chip. From there, an ion conducting polymer membrane allows for the transport of charge-carriers. Electrolysis products then evolve and collect in separated streams.

“The operating principles of artificial photosynthetic systems are similar to redox flow batteries and fuel cells in that charge-carriers need to be transported to electrodes, reactants need to be fed to catalytic centers, products need to be extracted, and ionic transport both from the electrolyte to catalytic centers and across channels needs to occur,” Ager said. “While there have been a number of artificial photosynthesis demonstrations that have achieved attractive solar to hydrogen conversion efficiencies, relatively few have included all of the operating principles, especially the chemical isolation of the cathode and anode.”

According to the team, the design of their test-bed allows pretty much any photoelectrochemical component to be incorporated into it. It also "provides selective catalysis at the cathode and anode, minimization of cross-over losses, and managed transport of the reactants."

Source: Berkeley Lab

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