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Details of Grant 

EPSRC Reference: EP/K027468/1
Title: Solar Fuels
Principal Investigator: Durrant, Professor J
Other Investigators:
Kelsall, Professor G
Researcher Co-Investigators:
Project Partners:
Department: Chemistry
Organisation: Imperial College London
Scheme: Network
Starts: 01 August 2013 Ends: 30 April 2017 Value (£): 252,971
EPSRC Research Topic Classifications:
Solar Technology
EPSRC Industrial Sector Classifications:
Related Grants:
Panel History:
Panel DatePanel NameOutcome
11 Mar 2013 Engineering Prioritisation Meeting 11/12 March 2013 Announced
Summary on Grant Application Form

Solar Energy is the world's largest renewable energy resource; the solar irradiation on the plant in one hour exceeds our current annual global energy demand. Existing solar conversion technologies achieve the conversion of solar energy to electricity (photovoltaics) or heat (solar thermal). Both technologies are making rapid scientific and technical progress, and achieving substantial market growth. For example 6.4 x 10^10 W of photovoltaic (PV) systems had been installed in > 100 countries by December 2011. However these solar conversion technologies have two significant limitations - the lack of a viable, scale-able energy storage strategy to address the intermittency of solar irradiation - and the lack of a viable mechanism to convert sunlight into transportation fuel. Given that transportation currently comprises ~ 1/3 of global energy demand, this latter limitation is of particular concern.

Plant photosynthesis demonstrates the viability of the direct conversion of sunlight to chemical fuels, storing the incident solar irradiation in the form of chemical bonds. However the relatively low solar to biomass energy conversion efficiencies of natural photosynthesis, and the limited availability of suitable cultivatable land, limit the global potential of direct bioenergy conversion. As such, artificial photosynthetic strategies are attracting extensive interest for the development of chemical reactors capable of utilising sunlight to drive the synthesis of molecular fuels.

The production of fuels (H2, HCO2H, CH3OH, CH4 etc.) using solar energy is now a very rapidly developing research field internationally. It is highly inter-disciplinary and multi-disciplinary, encompassing a range of scientifically distinct approaches to solar-driven synthesis of molecular fuels. Whilst the potential role(s) of solar-driven fuel synthesis within the overall parallel challenges of solar energy utilisation and renewable fuel synthesis needs to be clarified, there is increasing appreciation of the importance of meeting these challenges, and recent impressive scientific advances in the solar fuels field, are driving this field very rapidly up the scientific, commercial and policy agendas.

Network Focus

The Solar Fuels Network will focus on direct photo-driven fuel synthesis strategies. These include photoelectrochemical, molecular and photocatalytic strategies. Developing these strategies requires bringing together a range of disciplines including photoelectrochemistry, redox catalysis, molecular and semiconductor photochemistry, materials and particularly nanomaterials design and synthesis, photoreactor design and engineering as well as technology, environmental and lifecycle analyses.

Whilst the Network will focus on direct photo-driven processes, it is important to recognise that advances in this field will most probably be dependent upon advances in wider research fields, including electrocatalysis, biological photosynthetic processes, semiconductor photocatalysis and photovoltaics. Furthermore, assessment of solar fuels technology applications will require interfacing with, and evaluation against, alternative or complementary fuel synthesis strategies including water electrolysis, thermochemical CO2 reduction, CO2 capture, fuel cells, solar cells and alternative energy storage strategies. As such, the Network will plan to work closely with these research communities, including in particular organising joint events with suitable partner programmes and organisations - for example, the CO2 Chemistry and Semiconductor Photocatalysis Networks, the Hydrogen and Fuel Cell, Storage, Bioenergy and Solar Supergen Hubs, the EG&S and Nanotechnology KTN's, the Royal Society of Chemistry etc.

Key Findings
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Organisation Website: http://www.imperial.ac.uk