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Responsive Matrices for Solar Fuels
Description and Aim
Nature has successfully exploited photosynthetic membranes as the engine of evolution for about 3 billion years now. Photosynthesis has changed the atmosphere, from CO2-rich in the Archaic to the CO2-lean atmosphere rich in oxygen that we now know. Many scientists believe that it will be possible to use the working principles of photosynthesis for the chemical design and synthesis of “responsive matrices” for the production of solar fuel on a large scale, using water as the raw material to extract electrons and protons for the CO2-neutral production of primary energy carriers such as hydrogen or carbon-based fuels.
To sustain photochemical solar-to-fuel conversion, light has to be harvested, charges need to be separated, water has to be oxidised and protons reduced or reacted with CO2 concentrated from the atmosphere when carbon-based fuels are desired. Just as in nature, these different modules need to be integrated into a single device for kinetic control of photocatalysis by matching time, length and energy scales.
To imitate nature’s success, we need to be able to design dye aggregates that are pre-programmed for barrier-less unidirectional energy and charge transfer while preventing electron back transfer and recombination of electrons and holes. One of the most intriguing aspects of photosynthesis is nature’s use of the “responsive matrix”: components that are out of equilibrium in a controlled manner and use a combination of classical and quantum coherence for lowering energy barriers to photocatalysis by trading time for efficiency. Natural photosynthetic antennae and reaction centres are the product of historical contingency in the biological evolution. Chlorophylls and their scaffolding environment are chemically pre-programmed in the ground state by localised stress on the dye molecules, induced by folding and self-assembly of nano-structured molecular complexes, on a scale of 1-100 nm. Separate modules will have complex forms, which will have to exactly fulfil the desired function in solid aggregates, just as in nature. We expect such dynamic materials with complex energy landscapes will more and more resemble what we know from biology.
The “responsive matrix” will therefore be the focus of this workshop. We seek to bring together researchers from diverse areas in (artificial) photosynthesis research to gain an understanding of how the necessary modules for solar-to-fuel conversion can be pre-programmed for self-assembly into an intelligent device. This workshop will be considered a success if the participants gain an overview of the successes and challenges in the various research fields involved in the development of solar-to-fuel devices and, through the use of responsive matrices, obtain a practical vision on the construction of a future device. We aim to forge significant new collaborations that will facilitate progress towards a future device.