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Flexible semiconductor structure that splits water may be also good for optoelectronics, say scientists

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An efficient water splitting catalyst in the form of a double-helix semiconductor structure may be also suitable for different types of applications, including optoelectronics.

Chemists at the Technical University of Munich (TUM) have developed an efficient water splitting catalyst as part of a collaborative international research effort. The catalyst, which comprises a double-helix semiconductor structure encased in carbon nitride, was determined to be perfect for producing hydrogen economically and sustainably.

An inorganic double-helix compound comprising the elements tin, iodine and phosphorus (SnIP) forms the core of the structure. The SnIP fibers are flexible and, at the same time, robust as steel.

“The material combines the mechanical properties of a polymer with the potential of a semiconductor,” says Tom Nilges, Professor of Synthesis and Characterisation of Innovative Materials at the Technical University of Munich. “From this, we can manufacture flexible semiconductor components in a further technical step.”

The use as a water splitting catalyst is the first application for the unusual material, making it interesting for producing cheap hydrogen or to chemically store surplus electricity from wind farms. However, increasing its surface area by splitting the SnIP fibres into thinner strands turned out to be the most effective. Also, the one-dimensional SnIP double-helices open doors to applications such as optoelectronics.

“Flexible, inorganic, nanometer-sized, 1D semiconductors might create as much hype as 2D layered materials like graphene, phosphors, or molybdenum disulfide do today,” said Nilges.

The international team was led by Nilges and the University of Alberta engineer Karthik Shankar.

[Image credit: Alex Kondratiev for Unsplash]

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