Researchers of the University of Amsterdam’s Van ‘t Hoff Institute for Molecular Sciences (HIMS) are working on a new type of ‘chemical’ solar cell that utilizes sunlight for the synthesis of methanol from carbon dioxide and water. The Netherlands Organisation for Scientific Research NWO has funded the research under supervision of prof. Joost Reek with a grant of half a million euros. The research is performed in cooperation with the German chemicals company Merck and the Dutch research institutes ECN and FOM-AMOLF.
Efficient harvesting of solar light can provide the world with enough energy to allow the complete phasing out of fossil fuels. For many applications, cost-effective storage of solar energy is crucial for the future energy infrastructure.
The direct conversion of solar energy into fuel (solar fuel) can provide for this need for storage and photoelectrochemical cells (PECs) are an appealing strategy to realise this. In these cells the formation of the chemicals occurs at the physically separated anode and cathode, simplifying the isolation of the products (oxygen and fuel).
Prevent charge recombination
The Amsterdam chemists are developing a so-called molecular dye-sensitized photoelectrochemical cell (DSPEC) capable of reducing CO2 to methanol (or formic acid or even alkanes). DSPECs have great potential to realize very high efficiencies at low costs because their properties can be tailored by synthetic modification. However, the efficiency for DSPECs for solar energy conversion is still very low (< 0.1%) since the recombination of photochemically generated charges competes with the catalytic reactions that leads to the products.
The research project Redox Mediators in Dye-sensitized Photoelectrochemical Cells for CO2-reduction will last four years and will employ two PhD students. It will be performed in a consortium with UvA/HIMS (prof.dr. Joost Reek, dr. Remko Detz and prof.dr. Fred Brouwer), research institutes ECN (prof.dr. Wim Sinke) and FOM-AMOLF (dr. Erik Garnett), and the German chemicals company Merck (dr. Matthias Koch). Merck will also make a contribution to the project funding.
The new research project adds to the SOLARDAM research portfolio and builds on earlier PhD research by Hung-Cheng Chen, who graduated earlier this year on his thesis ‘Solar fuels via artificial photosynthesis‘ under the supervision of prof. Joost Reek (Homogeneous, Supramolecular and Bio-Inspired Catalysis) and prof. Fred Brouwer (Molecular Photonics). A patent has already been applied for. This led ir. Willem Fokkema and Jennifer Nyavor (student in Science, Business and Innovation) at the Innovation Exchange Amsterdam (IXA, the UvA’s technology transfer office) to scout for companies to participate in further development, leading to the cooperation with Merck.