Solar energy is the largest source of renewable energy on this planet. Learning how to effectively transform it and store it would solve the problem of rising global demand for energy and depletion of natural fossil fuels. Microorganisms, algae and plants have been effectively using solar energy through the process of photosynthesis for the last 3.5 billion years. This section groups EPFL’s research projects that get inspired by the way photosynthetic organisms transform solar energy into chemical energy capable of being stored and used when needed.
DSSC use surface-bound dyes, like the chlorophyll in green leaves, that catch photons of incoming light and uses their energy to excite electrons.These electrons are futher on passed to nanocrystalline titanium dioxide. Current research focuses on introducing revolutionary new concepts in the choice of the three materials that play a key role for performance and durability of the DSSC, i.e., the light haresting pigment, the electrolyte or hole conductor and the mesoporous TiO2 scaffold. Our research output will pave the way to enhance the production and sales of a new generation of durable and highly efficient glass panels that meet the esthetic and high quality demand of the market.
Artificial photosynthesis strives to replicate natural photosynthesis, a process that converts sunlight to split water into oxygen and hydrogen. Hydrogen in then combined with carbon dioxide to create as fuels for human usage.
The Solar Fuels subgroup at LPI is aimed at developing materials and processes for clean and renewable chemical fuel generation from sunlight, namely via water splitting to produce hydrogen or carbon dioxide reduction to form hydrocarbons. This employs the concept of photoelectrochemistry, encompassing the solid state physics of light absorption and charge separation, the electrochemistry of semiconductor/catalyst/liquid interfaces, and the chemical engineering of gas generation, electrolyte management, and cell design.
The SHINE-Nanotera project aims to develop a hydrogen production system using sunlight in an integrated manner with earth abundant materials mimicking natural photosynthesis. The project focuses on development of PhotoElectroChemical (PEC) systems that use semi-conductor materials to absorb photons from the sun to generate a potential high enough (>1.23 V) to split water and produce hydrogen and oxygen at an integrated electrolysis cell. A major advantage of PEC systems over systems composed of photovoltaic panels (PV) in conjunction to a separate electrolyzer is their integral approach, i.e. the PV cell is part of the electrolyzer. This provides opportunities not only for cost reduction but also for improvement in the efficiency of the electrochemical reaction. The project involves Michelin as an industrial partner, and its funded by the Nanotera.ch initiative.
The project leverages techniques in synthetic biology and protein engineering to engineer light-harvesting, biological constructs with enhanced synthetic activities; proteins and living cells are being “re-programmed” to behave like, and even interact with, synthetic devices.