International Collaboration in Chemistry - Modular microtubular architectures for photo-driven water splitting

Lead Research Organisation: University of Glasgow
Department Name: School of Chemistry


The world's present energy requirements are set to double by 2050, and although this increased demand could, in principle, be met by fossil fuels (currently the source of over 70% of our energy), the increased CO2 output would undoubtedly have deleterious consequences.An alternative solution is to harness the abundant energy that comes from the sun: the amount of solar energy that strikes the surface of the earth each hour is more than mankind currently uses each year. Research on all aspects of solar energy capture has increased considerably in recent years because the technical establishments as well as government and business sectors realize both the pressing need and the extraordinary opportunity that exists in the development of green, sustainable sources of energy. Photovoltaic (PV) devices are increasingly competitive based on efficiency, production costs and operating lifetime. Specifically, the best single crystal Si-based PV devices are up to 22% efficient but are currently prohibitively expensive for large-scale use. In contrast, dye-sensitized solar cells (DSSCs) are only about half this efficient but have the potential to be produced in quantity at far lower cost. However, these and other developing PV technology is limited to generation and storage of electrical energy, and while battery technology is improving, the energy density (weight and molar energy density) in our current batteries is far lower than what is available in fuels. This is why much activity at present is aimed at the direct production of fuel using sunlight. There is, of course, one process already known on Earth that achieves production of "solar fuel" - photosynthesis - although even this process, optimized over billions of years, is less then 1% efficient for most terrestrial plants. It is important therefore to consider every possible route towards harnessing solar energy to produce fuels. In this work we will use a novel range of molecular metal oxides, which have already been shown to be promising catalysts for the oxidation and splitting of water in to hydrogen and oxygen and therefore potentially of use for the generation of solar fuels, by the direct combination with dye-units that can transfer the suns energy to molecular oxide. This will exploit the recent discoveries of the US group (very fast water oxidation with a metal oxide catalyst) and the UK group (growth of microscale tubular architectures when the metal oxide is combined with the dye-cation). This means it is possible to 'grow' catalytic heterostructures that could convert sunlight into fuels on surfaces in with high surface area and robustness opening up a whole new area of science and application to 'fossil' free energy solutions.

Planned Impact

Ensuring a stable energy supply is the central challenge of the 21st century, and this team will highlight the importance of the problem and prepare the next generation of scientists. In additional to the technical goals, this project is envisaged to have broader impacts in four distinct domains:
1. The successful completion of the scientific goals of this program will transform thinking about catalysis using heterostructured metal oxides derived from molecular building blocks by creating independent modules for studying and optimizing the light and dark processes. These modules, as well as the platform for testing them as a system, will be freely shared with other researchers.
2. Students and RAs will be important stakeholders in team. Furthermore, the proposed project offers extraordinary training opportunities to students at all levels. Unique to this project is the combination of skills between Glasgow and Emory to create a world leading team in molecular metal oxides and catalysis for the formation of new heterostructured surfaces for solar fuel production.
3. The team exemplifies the globalization of science and will serve as a model for collaboration between the NSF and the EPSRC. Recognizing the importance of international collaboration, we have carefully constructed a trans-Atlantic administrative structure to foster close ties and included funds in the budget to support exchange of scientific personnel between laboratories.
4. Dissemination of scientific results will be crucial to this project, both to push the boundaries of solar-fuel research and engage the public in understanding a crucial problem. The geographic disparity of the participants provides a unique opportunity to develop web-based solar-fuel resources to engage the international community.


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Anamimoghadam O (2015) Electronically Stabilized Nonplanar Phenalenyl Radical and Its Planar Isomer. in Journal of the American Chemical Society

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Caramelli D (2018) Networking chemical robots for reaction multitasking. in Nature communications

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Cogdell RJ (2012) Learning from photosynthesis: how to use solar energy to make fuels. in Philosophical transactions. Series A, Mathematical, physical, and engineering sciences

Description Creation of a spin-out company, Astrea, described elsewhere
Exploitation Route We have developed a scalable, efficient solar energy-harvesting systems capable of operating at low light intensity represents one of the greatest scientific challenges today. Described in papers and patented the system.
Sectors Construction,Creative Economy,Energy,Environment

Description This research has tackled directly a problem of great academic, industrial and global significance - namely the direct conversion of solar energy and carbon dioxide / water to methanol. The research has been substantial for academic interest to groups interested in energy transfer and solar cells, as well as photosynthesis and the direct production of solar fuels.
First Year Of Impact 2012
Sector Creative Economy,Energy,Environment
Impact Types Cultural,Societal,Economic,Policy & public services

Company Name Astrea Power 
Description Astrea Power is an exciting new spin out company that will exploit a novel electrolysis technique invented at the University of Glasgow that will revolutionise hydrogen generation and power to gas. Electrolysis for hydrogen generation is increasingly being recognized as a key enabling technology for the supply of high purity hydrogen for fuel cell vehicles, energy systems and industrial applications. Within these contexts, hydrogen production via electrolysis enables: Maximising grid integration of renewables. Increasing the economic value of renewable assets (energy storage). Creation of a low zero carbon fuel to decarbonize transport, heat and industrial applications (CO2 reduction value). Economic application of ultrapure hydrogen in industrial and laboratory applications. Current electrolytic hydrogen generation systems remain high cost, are not easily coupled to renewable sources and their cost reduction routes other than via economies of scale are limited. The technology Astrea will exploit was developed by a team led by Professor Lee Cronin of the School of Chemistry at the University Of Glasgow. Scottish Enterprise, Scotland's economic development agency, have funded the project since 2013. The technology has resulted in a patented system that has both cost and performance advantages over current current electrolyser and hydrogen storage systems including: increased durability, increased efficiency, low cost high pressure and high purity capability, reduced precious metal usage and low load capability for maximizing solar/wind capture and as a consequence delivers a lower cost of ownership to the end user. 
Year Established 2015 
Impact just started