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Profs Develop Dyes to Help Solar, Hydrogen Fuel Processes

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Chemistry professors in Buffalo and Rochester, New York have synthesized new photo-sensitizing dyes that increase the efficiency of producing solar electricity and hydrogen fuel, for which light is a key ingredient. The U.S. Patent and Trademark Office (USPTO) has cleared the way for a patent on this technology.

The research team, led by University at Buffalo Professor Michael Detty and University of Rochester Professor Richard Eisenberg synthesized the new dyes — called chalcogenorhodamine dyes — used in Grätzel-type solar cells that convert sunlight into an electric current. In this type of solar cell, sunlight strikes the dyes and generates a chemical process knocking loose electrons in the dyes that interact with titanium dioxide and travel through the solar cell, forming the current.

To make hydrogen, the electrons emitted from the dyes flow into a catalyst, where they drive a chemical reaction that splits water into its basic hydrogen and oxygen elements. The researchers say lab tests have shown that this chalcogenorhodamine process generates hydrogen at higher rates than before, in part because the dyes absorb light more intensely and transfer their electrons more efficiently than conventional dyes. The results indicate that chalcogenorhodamines work efficiently in homogenous hydrogen-production systems with cobalt as the catalyst, as well as in heterogeneous systems using platinum deposited on titanium dioxide as the catalyst.

The research team published its findings in the 14 October 2010 issue of the the Journal of the American Chemical Society (paid subscription required).

USPTO granted University at Buffalo, which is handling commercialization of the research, a Notice of Allowance for the invention that indicates the agency’s intention to award a patent.

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