I thought that I would never see
a solar cell looking like a tree.
A tree with others in a forest
with fruitful molecules ripe for harvest.
A sunlight driven bounty frenzy
to save and capture nature’s energy.
Through natural photosynthesis, plants convert molecules such as carbon dioxide, into carbohydrates such as the starches and sugars that are typically stored in fruits. Future energy sustainability will rely on renewable resources such as solar energy, and researchers have taken many design cues from nature. At the UNC EFRC Center for Solar Fuels, we are developing artificial photosynthetic materials that transform solar energy into electrical energy for immediate use, as well as into energy-rich molecules that can be stored for later use.
Depicted here is a molecular “forest.” Molecules "rooted" on a metal oxide semiconductor “ground” are stabilized by the addition of a “grassy overlayer” (using atomic layer deposition). Many of the tree-like molecules depicted are designed to harness sunlight (chromophores), while others can “bear fruit” (catalysts that convert water into oxygen). Water is a bountiful earthly resource, and using sunlight to split water into hydrogen and oxygen provides renewable energy. The swirling oxygen molecules depict our harvesting of the “fruits” from half of this solar water-splitting reaction.
At the UNC EFRC we have made significant progress in sunlight utilization to generate fuels through the design of new catalysts, light-absorbing assemblies, and materials upon which to anchor and stabilize our molecules. It is our hope, that one day, “molecular forests” such as these will produce the energy required to sustain global needs.
Lapides, A. M.; Sherman, B. D.; Brennaman, M. K.; Dares, C. J.; Skinner, K. R.; Templeton, J. L.; Meyer, T. J. Synthesis, characterization, and water oxidation by a molecular chromophore-catalyst assembly prepared by atomic layer deposition. The “mummy” strategy Chem. Sci. 2015, ASAP. http://dx.doi.org/10.1039/C5SC01752A
EFRC: UNC EFRC: Center for Solar Fuels