Artificial Photosynthesis: Solar Fuels

Lead Research Organisation: University of Glasgow
Department Name: School of Life Sciences


Aims and Grand Challenges: The development of scaleable, efficient, and low intensity-tolerant solar energy harvesting systems represents one of the greatest scientific challenges today. In this research proposal we propose to explore a bold and innovative approach that uses solar energy to both generate energy and fix carbon dioxide in one step, to produce a type of solar fuel cell which would yield methanol or similar feedstock (this is the long term ~10 year aim). This is an extremely challenging problem and in this study we will bring to together researchers in Chemistry and Electrical Engineering in Glasgow, with those in existing Bio-energy research (Bacterial Photosynthesis, Plant Molecular Biology) along with the key international groups in this area from the USA, Japan, and Germany, to explore the idea of transferring concepts from natural photosynthesis to solid state devices. In this research we will learn from Photosynthesis how to arrange light harvesting/reaction centre units on a surface in an immobilised environment to assemble highly efficient and broad spectrum light harvesting devices using inorganic/organic chemistry approaches. Therefore by combining research from Chemistry (Model systems, supramolecular chemistry, and photoactive units and metalloenzyme models) with Electrical Engineering (Surface patterning, lithography, and surface structure manipulation) and Molecular Biology (Structural biology, biological electron transfer, and membrane bound proteins) we will develop a major and long term interdisciplinary research program with this grand aim. Ultimately, success in this research could allow the development of a sustainable carbon neutral economy arresting the increasing CO2 levels in the atmosphere from fossil fuel burning. This will have a major impact limiting global warming whilst securing our energy needs - a major issue identified by the DTI CAT and Stern Review reports.


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Bernstein A (2016) Renewables need a grand-challenge strategy in Nature

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Cogdell R (2018) Solar fuels and inspiration from photosynthesis in Journal of Photochemistry and Photobiology A: Chemistry

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Cogdell RJ (2013) The use and misuse of photosynthesis in the quest for novel methods to harness solar energy to make fuel. in Philosophical transactions. Series A, Mathematical, physical, and engineering sciences

Description We discovered that research into Artificial photosynthesis really must involve an interdisciplinary approach. The early reactions in photosynthesis are akin to charging up a battery. These charging reactions are rather efficient and what is needed are ways to couple these reactions to chemistry. Based on this Lee Cronin developed a novel chemical system to temporally separate the evolution oxygen and hydrogen driven by electrolysis. This system has been patented.
Exploitation Route All our conclusions have either been published or have been communicated at international conferences. Both Lee Cronin and I have appeared on TV to explain our results. I have also presented this research for a broad audience at the 2012 AAAS meeting in Vancouver Canada. This talk was widely reported in the newspapers and on overseas' radio.
Sectors Chemicals,Education,Energy,Environment
Description Our work has been used to influence ESF policy on the importance of Solar Fuel research. It led to BBSRC grant 008230/1 being funded as a European consortium.
First Year Of Impact 2010
Sector Education,Energy
Impact Types Societal,Policy & public services