Microfluidic Electrochemical Energy Conversion for Artificial Photosynthesis
Researchers at the Joint Center for Artificial Photosynthesis have developed a versatile microfluidic test-bed which can be used to optimize the integrated catalysis and mass transport components of electrochemical energy conversion devices. The small size and versatility of the design facilitates the evaluation of new materials under development without the need for scale-up.
Energy conversion devices require the parallel functionality of a variety of components for efficient operation. The new microfluidic test-bed allows all functional components to be easily exchanged and tailored for optimization, therefore allowing the performance of integrated devices to be readily assessed. While the initial experiments and modeling were performed for water electrolysis, the concept can be readily extended to solar-fuels generators and fuel-cell devices.
A novel microfluidic approach for the fabrication of integrated electrochemical energy conversion devices has been developed. Micro-fluidic electrochemical devices provide a simple route to integrate multiple components at small scales; they also provide a platform to readily tune architectures (e.g, channel dimensions). Additional benefits in include a high degree of control over reactant and product flows, low transport limitations due to small channel dimensions, and easy exchange of active materials. The team also developed multi-physics modeling tools that not only provide a quantitative description of the device performance but also can be used to better understand the behavior of the components in the device and ultimately provide insights on avenues for improvements. The approach developed here can be readily extended to other energy conversion systems such as solar-fuel generators and fuel cells and will allow facile testing of new components without the need to scale-up. This can allow for an early-stage assessment of the device’s performance under conditions relevant to operation, and has the potential to significantly accelerate the development of novel efficient components for applications in electrolysis, fuel-cell and artificial photosynthesis.