skip to main content


Title: Thermodynamic and achievable efficiencies for solar-driven electrochemical reduction of carbon dioxide to transportation fuels

Thermodynamic, achievable, and realistic efficiency limits of solar-driven electrochemical conversion of water and carbon dioxide to fuels are investigated as functions of light-absorber composition and configuration, and catalyst composition. The maximum thermodynamic efficiency at 1-sun illumination for adiabatic electrochemical synthesis of various solar fuels is in the range of 32–42%. Single-, double-, and triple-junction light absorbers are found to be optimal for electrochemical load ranges of 0–0.9 V, 0.9–1.95 V, and 1.95–3.5 V, respectively. Achievable solar-to-fuel (STF) efficiencies are determined using ideal double- and triple-junction light absorbers and the electrochemical load curves for CO 2 reduction on silver and copper cathodes, and water oxidation kinetics over iridium oxide. The maximum achievable STF efficiencies for synthesis gas (H 2 and CO) and Hythane (H 2 and CH 4) are 18.4% and 20.3%, respectively. Whereas the realistic STF efficiency of photoelectrochemical cells (PECs) can be as low as 0.8%, tandem PECs and photovoltaic (PV)-electrolyzers can operate at 7.2% under identical operating conditions. Finally, we show that the composition and energy content of solar fuels can also be adjusted by tuning the band-gaps of triple-junction light absorbers and/or the ratio of catalyst-to-PV area, and that the synthesis of liquid products and C 2Hmore » 4 have high profitability indices.« less
ORCiD logo [1] ;  [2] ;  [2]
  1. Lawrence Berkeley National Lab. (LBNL), Berkeley, CA (United States). Joint Center for Artificial Photosynthesis, Material Science Division
  2. Lawrence Berkeley National Lab. (LBNL), Berkeley, CA (United States). Joint Center for Artificial Photosynthesis, Material Science Division; Univ. of California, Berkeley, CA (United States). Dept. of Chemical & Biomolecular Engineering
Publication Date:
Grant/Contract Number:
AC02-05CH11231; SC0004993
Published Article
Journal Name:
Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America
Additional Journal Information:
Journal Volume: 112; Journal Issue: 45; Journal ID: ISSN 0027-8424
National Academy of Sciences, Washington, DC (United States)
Research Org:
Lawrence Berkeley National Lab. (LBNL), Berkeley, CA (United States)
Sponsoring Org:
USDOE Office of Science (SC); USDOE Office of Science (SC), Basic Energy Sciences (BES) (SC-22). Chemical Sciences, Geosciences & Biosciences Division
Country of Publication:
United States
37 INORGANIC, ORGANIC, PHYSICAL, AND ANALYTICAL CHEMISTRY; artificial photosynthesis; electrochemical CO2 reduction; solar-to-fuel efficiency; photoelectrochemical cells; photovoltaic-electrolyzer
OSTI Identifier:
Alternate Identifier(s):
OSTI ID: 1415946; OSTI ID: 1418284