Photoelectrochemical Devices for Space Applications

Human deep space exploration will rely on efficient and sustainable life support systems for the production of oxygen and other chemicals as well as the recycling of carbon dioxide. Photoelectrochemical (PEC) devices are investigated for the light-assisted production of hydrogen and carbon-based fuels from CO2 within the green energy transition on Earth.1 Similarly to natural photosynthesis, they only require water and solar energy for the process and release oxygen as a by-product. Their monolithic, compact design comprising integrated semiconductor-electrocatalyst systems for light absorption, charge separation and catalysis as well as their sole reliance on solar energy makes them attractive for applications in space, where they can directly convert solar into chemical energy without requiring additional accessories.2,3

This talk highlights our recent experiments with PEC devices in microgravity environments realised for 9.3 s at the Bremen Drop Tower and links results regarding device efficiencies to gas bubble management4 and optoelectronic simulations5. We will discuss obstacles such as the limiting solar irradiance on Mars as well as the reduced gravitation on the Martian and lunar surface for the application of PEC and other electrochemical devices in these environments and point to practical, sustainable solutions how to overcome them. 


(1) Fehr A. M. K. et al. (2023). Integrated halide perovskite photoelectrochemical cells with solar-driven water-splitting efficiency of 20.8%. Nat. Commun. 14 (3797).

(2) Brinkert K. et al. (2018). Efficient solar hydrogen production in microgravity environment. Nat. Commun. 9 (2527).

(3) Brinkert K. & Mandin, P. (2022). Fundamentals and future applications of electrochemical energy conversion in space, npj Microgravity 52.

(4) Romero-Calvo √Ā. et al. (2022). Magnetic phase separation in microgravity. npj Microgravity 8 (32).

(5) Ross B. et al. (2023). Assessment of the technological viability of photoelectrochemical devices for oxygen and fuel production on Moon and Mars, Nat. Commun. 14, (3141).


Photo of Dr Katharina Brinkert

Dr. Katharina Brinkert is an Associate Professor in Catalysis at the University of Warwick, UK, and a Group Leader at the Center of Applied Space Technology and Microgravity (ZARM), University of Bremen, Germany, where her research interests comprise artificial photosynthesis systems for the application in solar fuel devices and (photo-)electrocatalytic synthesis in terrestrial and space environments. Previously, she was a Leopoldina Postdoctoral Scholar at the Californian Institute of Technology/USA and a Research Fellow at the European Space and Technology Center/Netherlands after receiving her PhD from Imperial College London in 2015. She is a recipient of the Zeldovich Medal for the foundation of the research field ‚ÄúPhotoelectrocatalysis and Solar Fuels in Space‚ÄĚ. 

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