About Solar Chemicals
Modern society relies on materials and molecules which are derived either directly from fossil carbon resources or that are generated in energy intensive processes. The linear exploitation of fossil resources is unsustainable leading to waste (primarily carbon dioxide) generation and associated environmental and societal impacts. Although renewable electricity generation is now available, we lack sustainable routes of generating commodity and value chemicals, fuels and fertilisers. Nature has evolved an array of machineries and mechanisms for sustainably generating chemicals in a versatile manner from water, carbon dioxide and nitrogen from the most abundant energy resource available - solar. Scientists are now learning from, and working with, nature to fill the technology gap for sustainable, solar-driven, chemical generation. Solar energy can be used to drive the conversion of abundant feedstocks – water, nitrogen and carbon dioxide to form sustainable products for use in a range of products. Nature already achieves this vision, a solar chemicals community will learn from, exploit and develop artificial and biohybrid materials for use at scale impacting on a range of sectors.
Solar and Power to X: A diverse range of chemicals can be formed from water, carbon dioxide and nitrogen as the feedstocks using solar energy as the renewable resource and there is also a wide variety of potential technologies that can achieve this goal. These range from higher technology ready level systems such as photovoltaics coupled to electrolysers (sometimes called power to X) to potentially cheap, but often earlier stage systems where the light absorption and catalytic steps are integrated into a single material (e.g. photocatalysis). One of the most exciting recent developments is the emergence of biohybrids which are designed to combine the selectivity of a biological system with the robustness of an inorganic absorber. Regardless of the approach a practical system will need to be durable, scalable, selective towards the desired product and achieve a reasonable energy conversion efficiency. Several recent roadmaps on the field have been produced which can be found on the Mission Innovation site and on the SUNER-C community pages.
Image reproduced from Mission Innovation, IC5 roadmap, https://tinyurl.com/5n97abat
Pathways to Solar Fuels and Chemicals are being researched across the UK and world-wide. Leading projects and networks around the world include the SUNER-C community in the EU, CHASE and LiSA in the USA amongst others.
In the UK we aim for the Solar Chemicals Network to act as the central contact for our community and we welcome new members - joining is free simply follow the link at the top of the page. As the network grows we will be developing new educational outreach and policy materials that will be posted here and announced in the regular newsletters.