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Responsive Matrices for Solar Fuels
The need for renewable fuel sources on a large scale is one of the most pressing problems facing today’s society. Many scientists believe that it will be possible to use the working principles of photosynthesis for the production of solar fuels. One of the most intriguing aspects of nature’s success is the use of ‘responsive matrices’: the various components (antennas, charge separators, multi-electron catalysts for water splitting and fuel production) in photosynthesis are pre-programmed by their protein environment for optimal operation in their given function. Furthermore, this matrix enables the system to self-assemble and self-repair. This workshop brought together researchers from diverse areas in (artificial) photosynthesis research to gain an understanding of how nature uses these responsive matrices, and how we can imitate nature’s success.
There were 54 participants, 22 talks and about 15 posters. The program was designed with ample time for discussion: plenary discussions at the end of each session, coffee breaks with posters hanging nearby, lengthy lunch breaks giving opportunity for informal interactions and parallel small group discussions after lunch on three of the five days.
Key steps for the construction of a solar-to-fuel device with responsive matrix components are synthesis and design, structure-function analysis, and systems integration. The presentation sessions were therefore divided up into these themes. The talks were all met with great enthusiasm by the participants and led to lively discussions at the end of each session. The parallel discussion sessions were on the subjects of antenna systems and charge separators, multi-electron catalysis, systems integration, self-assembly and self-repair in photoelectrochemical systems, and analysis methods and theory. In these groups, researchers working in these various areas brainstormed on how to move their area of research forward. During these sessions participants defined common goals and identified the problems that needed to be solved to achieve those goals. Collaborations were even seen between these different groups: on the penultimate day of the meeting, the multi-electron catalysis group and the systems integration group discovered that they had so much in common that they combined forces to discuss new directions of research together. One of the key conclusions of the discussion sessions was that there is a need for more sharing of information between different disciplines. Strategies for achieving this were proposed.
The workshop was connected to the Leiden University Honours program with the class “Responsive matrices for solar fuels”. We had four Honours students present at the workshop. Each of these students was assigned to a discussion group where they participated in the discussion, took notes and helped with the reporting of the group. It was a delight to see these students participate more and more through the workshop as they became more familiar with the subject and more relaxed with the workshop environment.
All in all, it was a highly successful meeting where new collaborations were forged and researchers obtained a better view on the next steps for their field to achieve the goal of making an artificial photosynthetic device. As a result of this workshop, ideas for new proposals have been seeded and at least one has been submitted.
We are extremely grateful to the Lorentz Center, for their expert handling of all practical matters. This made the workshop a pleasure to organise and a relatively stress free experience. This workshop would not have been possible without financial support from the Lorentz Center and the BioSolar Cells program.