Research: Solar Fuels
Turning photons into fuels by mimicking biological systems
Chemical fuels are likely to be essential to the transportation system for the foreseeable future, though ideally they would be produced using renewable resources such as sunlight. They also offer an enticing way to store solar energy in a very compact form. Challenges in solar fuels production lie in developing systems that efficiently couple single electron photo-excited light-harvesting molecules to multiple proton-coupled electron transfer reactions on catalysts, and to accomplish this using molecular systems that self-assemble/repair and are comprised of plentiful source materials. Natural photosynthesis serves as a paradigm for the design of molecular systems that embody these features. Central to Nature’s designs are hierarchical, modular architectures with functions such as light-harvesting, charge separation, proton management, and catalysis using earth-abundant metal complexes. These modules are then clustered in hierarchal architectures for integrated function. Modular photosynthetic architectures provide strategies allowing for optimizing solar energy conversion function, assembly, and repair. From an energy research perspective, the modular approach is also attractive since it offers opportunities to adapt modules designed for individual tasks in solar energy conversion for use in variety of organic, inorganic, and biological solar fuels device applications.
Research programs at Argonne build upon understanding solar energy converting processes in natural and artificial model systems to develop approaches that mimic biology for solar energy conversion. A central component of this program is the development of synthetic approaches that combines biological and abiotic chemical modules. Argonne’s experimental approaches are combined with theory and modeling. Combined experimental and computational approaches provide opportunities to resolve fundamental mechanisms for coupling photons to fuels in molecular and photosynthetic bio-hybrid systems, and for developing biomimetic molecular systems to efficiently convert photons to fuels.