Water Splitting for Energy: The Challenge of Irreversibility and Self-Organization

Prof. Helmut Tributsch
Retired from Free University Berlin & HZB, Germany.

By Prof. Helmut Tributsch, Retired from: Free University Berlin, Institute for physical and theoretical Chemistry, and Helmholtz Centre Berlin for Materials and Energy.

After several decades of worldwide water splitting research a lot of progress has been achieved in understanding photosynthetic processes and developing prototypes for (photo)electrochemical energy harvesting. An overview of most interesting results is given. It shows that progress in three directions, which nature successfully handles, is blocked: energy efficient oxygen evolution, electrode stability and catalysts from abundant materials. It is shown that problems are fundamental and caused by a science, which is presently basing understanding on time-neutral concepts and an energy, which, as scalar quantity, expresses no relation to change and time. Nature, however, works far from equilibrium and applies feedback processes. Electron transfer theory is mentioned as an example for the existing problems. It is shown how the transition to an energy driven time arrow will give access to the world of self-organization for energy harvesting while tolerating present knowledge as liming case.


Helmut Tributsch is a physicist and professor of physical chemistry. From 1982 to 2008 he taught at the Institute for Physical and Theoretical Chemistry at Freie Universität Berlin and was also head of the Department of Solar Energetics at the Helmholtz Center for Matter and Energy (formerly Hahn-Meitner Institute). He spent ten more years researching at foreign institutions, including as a postdoctoral fellow at the University of California, Berkeley, as a Heisenberg fellow at the CNRS in Paris, and as Walter Schottky Professor at Stanford University. His main interests are the research of sustainable energy and in particular biomimetics in energy systems, a topic he taught at the Carinthia University of Applied Sciences until 2018. He is an experienced scientist and has published 450 scientific papers and 10 books cited over 10,000 times. He lives on his mountain farm in Friuli, Italy.