Fully artificial photo-electrochemical device for low temperature hydrogen production

Project Information
Framework Programme: 
Call for proposals: 
Application area: 
Hydrogen production & Distribution


  • Improved and novel nano structured materials for photo-activated processes comprising photo catalysts, photo anodes interfaced with liquid or new polymer electrolytes
  • Chemical systems for highly efficient low temperature water splitting using solar radiation
  • Demonstration of solar to hydrogen efficiency > 5% with a perspective of >10.000 h lifetime
  • Small to medium scale applications ranging from 100 W for domestic use (ca. 3 g/h H2 equivalent) to 100 kW (ca. 3 kg/h H2 equivalent) for commercial use.


With a solar light to hydrogen conversion efficiency of 10 % and a radiation input of 1000 kWh per m2, one gets 3 kg of H2/y/ m2. If a 7 €/kg cost of solar-electrolytic hydrogen is considered, each panel will provide about 24 €/m2/y of H2. Assuming a 20 years lifetime and a money capitalization of 5 %, one can afford costs up to 200 €/m2 of the Artiphyction panels including installation to ensure a widespread diffusion of the technology.


Leaves can split water into O2 and H2 at ambient conditions exploiting sun light. In photosynthesis, H2 is used to reduce CO2 and give rise to the various organic compounds needed by the organisms or even oily compounds which can be used as fuels. However, a specific enzyme, hydrogenase, may lead to non-negligible H2 formation even within natural systems.

Building on the pioneering work performed in a FET project based on natural enzymes (www.solhydromics.org) and the convergence of the work of the physics, materials scientists, chemical engineers and chemists involved in the project, an artificial device will be developed to convert sun energy into H2 with close to 10% efficiency by water splitting at ambient temperature, including: i) an electrode exposed to sunlight carrying a PSII-like chemical mimic deposited upon a suitable transparent electron-conductive porous electrode material (e.g. ITO, FTO); ii) a membrane enabling transport of protons via a pulsated thin water gap; iii) an external wire for electron conduction between electrodes; iv) a cathode carrying an hydrogenase-enzyme mimic over a porous electron-conducting support in order to recombine protons and electrons into pure molecular hydrogen at the opposite side of the membrane.

A tandem system of sensitizers will be developed at opposite sides of the membrane in order to capture light at different wavelengths so as to boost the electrons potential at the anode for water splitting purposes and to inject electrons at a sufficiently high potential for effective H2 evolution at the cathode. Along with this, the achievement of the highest transparence level of the membrane and the electrodes will be a clear focus of the R&D work. A proof of concept prototype of about 100 W (3 g/h H2 equivalent) will be assembled and tested by the end of the project for a projected lifetime of >10,000 h.

Project details
Project reference: 
SP1-JTI-FCH.2011.2.6: Low-temperature H2 production processes
Project type: 
Research and technological development
Contract type: 
Collaborative Project
Start date: 
Tuesday, May 1, 2012
End date: 
Saturday, October 31, 2015
36 months (originally), extended to 42 months
Project cost: 
€ 3,594,580.50
Project funding: 
€ 2,187,039.80

Politecnico di Torino – Dept. Of Applied Science and Technology, Italy

Prof. Guido Saracco
Contact email: 
Other participating organisations: 
Organisation Country
HySyTech srl IT
Commissariat à L’Energie Atomique FR
Chemical Process Engineering Research Institute EL
Solaronix SA CH
L'urederra Foundation for Technical and Social Development ES
Tecnologia Navarra de Nanoproductos SL ES
Pyrogenesis SA EL


Patents and Publications
Martinez Suarez C., Hernández S., Russo N., “BiVO4 as photocatalyst for solar fuels production through water splitting: A short review”, Applied Catalysis A: General, 2015, 504, 158-170.
Nicolas Queyriaux, Nicolas Kaeffer, Adina Morozan, Murielle Chavarot-Kerlidou,Vincent Artero#, “Molecular cathode and photocathode materials for hydrogen evolution in photoelectrochemical devices”, J. Photochem. Photobiol. C, 2015 25, 90-105.
C. J. Wood, G. H. Summers, C. Clark, N.Kaeffer, M.Brautigam, L. Roberta Carbone, L. D'Amario,K. Fan, Y. Farré, S. Narbey, F. Oswald, L. A. Stevens, M. R. Hall, C. E. Snape, B. Project No.: 303435 Period number: 3rd Ref: 303435_ArtipHyction_Final_Report-13_20160615_154530_CET.pdf Page - 8 of 27 Dietzek, D. Dini, L. Hammarström, Y. Pellegrin, F. Odobel, L. Sun, V. Artero, E. A. Gibson*, “A comprehensive comparison of dye-sensitized NiO photocathodes for solar energy conversion”, Phys. Chem. Chem.
N. Kaeffer, A. Morozan, V. Artero*,“Oxygen Tolerance of a Molecular Engineered Cathode for Hydrogen Evolution Based on a Cobalt Diimine–Dioxime Catalyst”, J Phys. Chem. B, 2015.
. C. Ottone, M. Armandi, S. Hernández, S. Bensaid, M. Fontana, C. F. Pirri, G. Saracco, E. Garrone and B. Bonelli, “Effect of surface area on the rate of photocatalytic water oxidation as promoted by different manganese oxides”, Chemical Engineering Journal, 2015, 119, 13707-13.
D. Hidalgo, S. Bocchini, M. Fontana, G. Saracco and S. Hernandez, “Green and low-cost synthesis of PANI-TiO2 nanocomposite mesoporous films for photoelectrochemical water splitting”, RSC Advances, 2015, 5, 49429-49438.
S. Hernandez, D. Hidalgo, A. Sacco, A. Chiodoni, A. Lamberti, V. Cauda, E. Tresso and G. Saracco, “Comparison of photocatalytic and transport properties of TiO2 and ZnO nanostructures for solar-driven water splitting”, Physical Chemistry Chemical Physics, 2015, 17, 7775-7786.
S. Hernández, G. Barbero, G. Saracco and A. L. Alexe-Ionescu, “Considerations on Oxygen Bubble Formation and Evolution on BiVO4 Porous Anodes Used in Water Splitting Photoelectrochemical Cells”, The Journal of Physical Chemistry C, 2015, 119, 9916-9925.
D. Hidalgo, R. Messina, A. Sacco, D. Manfredi, S. Vankova, E. Garrone, G. Saracco and S. Hernández, “Thick mesoporous TiO2 films through a sol–gel method involving a non-ionic surfactant: Characterization and enhanced performance for water photo-electrolysis”, International Journal of Hydrogen Energy, 2014, 39, 21512–21522.
S. Hernández, M. Tortello, A. Sacco, M. Quaglio, T. Meyer, S. Bianco, G. Saracco, C. F. Pirri and E. Tresso, “New Transparent Laser-Drilled Fluorine-doped Tin Oxide covered Quartz Electrodes for Photo-Electrochemical Water Splitting”, Electrochimica Acta, 2014, 131, 184-194.
. Hernández S, Thalluri SM, Sacco A, Bensaid S, Saracco G, Russo N. “Photo-catalytic activity of BiVO4 thin-film electrodes for solar-driven water splitting”. Applied Catalysis A: General. 2015, 504, 266-271.
Vincent Artero, Jean-Michel Savéant, Toward the Rational Benchmarking of Homogeneous H2-Evolving Catalysts, submitted to Energy Environ. Sci. (2014)
Bhattacharjee, E. S. Andréiadis, M. Chavarot-Kerlidou, M. Fontecave, M. J. Field*, V. Artero*, A Computational Study of the Mechanism of Hydrogen Evolution by Cobalt(Diimine-Dioxime) Catalysts, Chem. Eur. J. 2013, 19, 15166 – 15174.