October 15, 2009

Chemistry Team Seeks to Use Artificial Photosynthesis and Nanotubes to Generate Hydrogen Fuel with Sunlight

The U.S. Department of Energy has awarded four Department of Chemistry faculty major funding for a project entitled "“SISGR: Modular Nanoscale and Biomimetic Assemblies for Photocatalytic Hydrogen Generation” under the auspices of the DOE Basic Energy Sciences program.

Professor Kara L. Bren along with Co-PIs Professors Richard Eisenberg, Patrick L. Holland and Todd D. Krauss will work together, and in parallel, on the project, which has as an overarching objective the development of a multicomponent device to convert visible light energy into chemically stored energy in the form of H2 .

The proposed photochemical H2 production device possesses a modular design. The separation of components will enable rapid progress through the parallel development of individual components. The team will use some components that are already known to be effective, as well as investigate creative new designs based on natural systems or nanotechnology. The three modular components are: (1) engineered multiheme-peptide conjugates, which are chromophores that yield reducing electrons upon exposure to visible light; (2) a non-porous carbon nanotube membrane that rapidly transfers electrons to a proton-reducing catalyst and separates the light-harvesting and proton-reducing components; and (3) a proton-reducing catalyst, a coordination complex that incorporates Earth-abundant metals and has demonstrated H+ reduction ability in solution.

It is envisioned that the potential impact of this project could be enormous. By developing a modular integrated system for efficient solar production of the green fuel hydrogen, the design is readily adapted to incorporate new developments in the fields of solar energy conversion, nanotechnology, and catalytic hydrogen reduction. Because the proposed strategy for fabrication uses inexpensive components, the resultant devices are potentially amenable to large-scale utilization and commercialization.

The mission of the US DOE Basic Energy Sciences (BES) program is to foster and support fundamental research to expand the scientific foundations for new and improved energy technologies and for understanding and mitigating the environmental impacts of energy use.