The Science of Converting Solar Energy to Fuel

Chemists at Yale University are working to provide solar-derived energy in forms useful for transportation, residential and industrial applications with help from the U.S. Department of Energy (DOE). The Yale researchers along with scientists at 12 other institutions will share approximately $12 million over three years as part of the DOE Solar Energy to Chemical Fuels initiative.

“Development of cheap, robust and efficient photocatalytic cells for water cleavage with visible-light power will allow the production of chemical fuels using sustainable and economically viable resources,” said project leader Gary Brudvig Professor and Chair of the Yale Department of Chemistry. “This has been a goal of photoelectrochemistry research for more than three decades. Our challenge is to improve efficiency of solar energy utilization.”

Along with Brudvig, the Yale research team includes the laboratories of Chemistry professors Victor Batista, Charles Schmuttenmaer and Robert Crabtree. The project aims to attach manganese complexes to titanium dioxide nanoparticles in order to develop a system that will efficiently produce renewable fuel using solar energy, according to Brudvig.

“These projects are part of our aggressive basic research in the physical sciences—what I call ‘transformational science’—aimed at achieving a new generation of breakthrough technologies that will push the cost-effectiveness of renewable energy sources to levels comparable to petroleum and natural gas sources,” Under Secretary for Science Raymond L. Orbach said.

DOE’s Office of Science selected 27 projects that will focus on fundamental science to support enhanced use of solar energy. Universities and national laboratories in 18 states will conduct the research.

The Yale team expects that the research will provide a comprehensive molecular-level understanding of the structural and dynamical principles to achieve breakthroughs in efficiency of photocatalytic devices.

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