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Gold in Tech: Gold Nanoparticles Could Boost Solar Energy Storage

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Rutgers University-New Brunswick researchers have developed a star-shaped gold nanoparticle that could open the door to improving storage of solar energy.

According to scientists at the university, the nanoparticle coated with a semiconductor can produce hydrogen from water over four times more efficiently than other methods. The development could boost solar energy use and possibly lead to other renewable energy developments.

Laura Fabris led the Rutgers research team along with Fuat Celik. She said the gold nanoparticles more efficiently catalyze the chemical reaction that produces hydrogen. According to an article in Phys.org, Fabris and Celik tapped visible and infrared light that allowed gold nanoparticles to absorb it more quickly and then transfer some of the electrons generated as a result of the light absorption to nearby materials like titanium dioxide.

Instead of using ultraviolet light, which is the standard practice, we leveraged the energy of visible and infrared light to excite electrons in gold nanoparticles. Excited electrons in the metal can be transferred more efficiently into the semiconductor, which catalyzes the reaction.”

Researchers say hydrogen can then be used to store solar energy. The hydrogen can later be combusted for energy when the sun is not shining.

As we reported recently, technology will play a key role in driving precious metals demand in the coming years. Over the past decade, the tech sector accounted for more than 380 tons of gold demand annually. That’s 13% ahead of central bank purchases during the same time period. The demand for the yellow metal for tech applications logged its sixth consecutive quarter of gains in Q1 2018.

Gold is primarily used in the electronics field. You can find gold in phones, cars, televisions and hospital monitors. Gold bonding wire serves as an important component in many electronic products. Demand for the gold is also growing in the healthcare field.

The booming renewable energy sector could also drive silver demand higher.  According to a Silver Institute report, the evolution toward green technology will consume over 1.5 billion ounces of the white metal through the year 2030.

In fact, this new development using gold nanoparticles could be a boon to silver as well.

Industrial demand for silver rose 4% to 599 million ounces in 2017, and solar panel fabrication primarily drove that growth. Photovoltaic demand climbed 19% as solar panel installations worldwide rose 24%.

Silver is a key component in solar panel production. As the Silver Institute points out, the cost of installing and providing solar photovoltaic (PV) systems has fallen rapidly relative to other electrical energy sources over the past two decades. China, in particular, continues to rapidly increase solar energy production. In its 13th Five-Year Plan, Beijing aims to triple its solar capacity by 2020. Last year ranked as the strongest on record for solar-related silver demand. Analysts estimate roughly 820 million ounces of silver will be utilized by global solar energy applications through 2030.

Tech demand for both gold and silver will likely continue to increase over the next several decades. This could have a significant impact on overall demand for these precious metals. Silver demand has always been heavily influenced by industrial use, but gold is becoming more and more important in industry, especially in high tech applications. It’s important to consider these supply and demand fundamentals as you analyze the broader precious metals markets.

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