Direct photoelectrochemical water splitting offers several advantages over PV-powered electrolysis and may become the technology of choice in the future. However, significant R&D efforts and breakthroughs are needed to accomplish this goal.
The sustainable production of hydrogen would be an important first step for both powering fuel cells and for enabling large-scale and technologically mature gas phase processes to reduce CO2 and nitrogen to get desired products. Specifically, the central challenge is to produce hydrogen from water using sunlight. Photovoltaics and wind-powered electrolysis are likely to be the technology of choice to produce renewable hydrogen for the next few decades. However, the integration of light absorption and catalysis in ‘direct’ photoelectrolysis routes offers several advantages, such as lower current densities and better heat management, and may become technologically relevant in the second half of this century. This article discusses the research and development efforts and needed breakthroughs to achieve this goal. New chemically stable semiconductors with a band gap between 1.5 and 2.0 eV and long carrier lifetimes are urgently needed to make efficient tandem devices. Scale-up of these research level devices beyond a few cm2 introduces mass transport limitations that require creative electrochemical engineering solutions. Last but not least, standardized methods for measuring efficiencies and stabilities need to be implemented and should lead to official benchmarking and certification laboratories to guide commercial scale up efforts.