Solar Fuels

The release of our report Solar Fuels and Artificial Photosynthesis: Science and innovation to change our future energy options, at the 1st UK Solar to Fuels Symposium, held in London in January 2012, marked the beginning of our programme of activities to raise awareness of the environmental and economic potential of solar fuels and artificial photosynthesis, and to support scientists working in this field.  

This page includes resources which we hope will be useful for scientists, policymakers, young people and other members of the public with interests in sustainable energy and in energy research and innovation.

Artificial photosynthesis pathway from sunlight to fuels: Download the solar fuels report and infographics

Download the solar fuels report and infographics

Revolutionising our energy options

Scientists around the world are working towards the goal of developing technologies to harness energy from the sun to produce fuels for transport, industry and electricity generation. Fuels produced using solar energy would transform our future energy options by providing an alternative to fossil fuels.

In his foreword for the report, Nobel Laureate Professor Alan Heeger writes that although the idea that we could produce electricity using solar energy may at one time have been considered to be a remote vision, today solar photovoltaic panels are an increasingly common sight.

The RSC report introduces another long-term goal for science and technology in the quest to harness solar energy: producing fuels using sunlight. The idea is to capture and deliberately store solar energy in the chemical bonds of a fuel. If this can be achieved on a large scale it would revolutionise our future energy options by providing a way to:

  • store solar energy for use when and where it is needed
  • produce sustainable fuels for transport
  • produce sustainable raw materials (feedstocks) for production of goods such as fertiliser, pharmaceuticals and plastics.           

Solar fuels could also play an important role in enabling or enhancing other sustainable energy technologies.

While the potential of producing fuels from sunlight is tremendous there are significant challenges which need to be overcome in making a transition from current laboratory prototypes to commercial systems possible.  

Three routes to solar fuel production - natural photosynthesis, artificial photosynthesis and thermochemical approaches - are currently being explored.  'Artificial photosynthesis' is a term that has emerged to describe processes that, like natural photosynthesis, harvest sunlight and use this energy to chemically convert water and carbon dioxide into fuels.

Research and innovation globally

The report also gives an overview of the international research effort which is gaining momentum in a focussed drive to produce fuels using sunlight.  Notable among this effort are the Joint Centre for Artificial Photosynthesis, one of three Energy Innovation Hubs in the United States, the Towards Biosolar Cells consortium in The Netherlands and the Korean Centre for Artificial Photosynthesis.  There is also some indication of entrepreneurial initiatives and of initial industrial interest in the energy, automotive, catalysis and sustainable construction sectors.  

The capacity to produce renewable solar hydrogen would be important in enabling hydrogen transport. The capability to use solar energy to produce useful fuels from carbon dioxide and, for example, water would enhance carbon capture technologies by providing a way to use rather than simply to store captured carbon dioxide.  

Solar Fuels Infographics

Solar fuels and artificial photosynthesis

The RSC has commissioned a series of infographics that explain the concept of solar fuels production and artificial photosynthesis

Downloadable Files

Solar Fuels and Artificial Photosynthesis: Science and innovation to change our future energy options
Download the full report. Published January 2012
PDF iconPDF (3325k)  

Solar Fuels and Artificial Photosynthesis: Global initiatives and opportunities
Summary of a discussion meeting held at the Chemistry Centre, London on 17 May 2012.
PDF iconPDF (720k)  

Solar Fuels and Artificial Photosynthesis: Opening remarks by Professor David Phillips CBE
Opening remarks by Professor David Phillips CBE, RSC President at the discussion meeting "Solar Fuels and Artificial Photosynthesis: Global initiatives and opportunities" held at the Chemistry Centre, London on 17 May 2012.
PDF iconPDF (387k)  

PDF files require Link icon Adobe Acrobat Reader

Related Links

BBC Radio 4 Frontiers - Artificial Photosynthesis

BBC Radio 4 Frontiers: Artificial Photosynthesis

13 June 2012

BBC Radio 4 Frontiers Programme on Artificial Photosynthesis

Nate Lewis

Global Energy Perspectives

Special Live lecture - May 17th 2012, 5:25-6:30pm, Professor Nathan S Lewis, California Institute of Technology, US


Solar Fuels and Sustainable Energy

Resources related to solar fuels and sustainable energy more broadly on Learn Chemistry, the RSC's online platform for learning and teaching

The Mole

The Mole March 2012

In this month's student magazine: Shining light on artificial photosynthesis

Earth from space

One hundred years on, the RSC celebrates progress towards realising father of photochemistry's vision

25 September 2012

The RSC marks the centenary of the publication of a seminal paper by the 'father of photochemistry' with a special collection of freely available articles on solar fuels.

Sustainable Energy

Sustainable Energy

Chemistry is contributing to sustainable energy solutions. These include renewable energy, nuclear power and energy storage, as well as improving energy efficiency.

Related Links

Link icon Solar Fuels - a Special RSC Web Collection
A collection of recent books and articles from our journals in the areas of solar fuels and artificial photosynthesis, free to access until 31 October 2013

Link icon Solar Fuels Network homepage
The Solar Fuels Network is a UK-based organisation funded by the EPSRC with the purpose of developing an effective community of researchers from both academia and industry who investigate routes to artificial photosynthesis.

Link icon Royal Society Summer Science Exhibition - London
The RSC is supporting an exhibit about solar fuels by researchers from the University of York and University of Oxford at the Royal Society Summer Science Exhibition in London from 2-7 July 2013.

Link icon TUNZA Solar Fuels Article
An article about solar fuels in TUNZA, the UN Environmental Programme magazine for youth. Available in several languages.

Link icon Energy & Environmental Science Journal Blog
Find all the most read articles and recent news from Energy & Environmental Science Journal

Link icon Solar Fuels - a Special Collection of Articles
A Centenary for Solar Fuels - a special collection of articles by leading international scientists, as well as original commentaries setting out their opinions about the future. All articles in the collection are free to access until 27th October 2012

Link icon An episode of BBC World News - "Horizons"
Nobel Laureate for Chemistry Sir Harry Kroto discusses the future of renewable energy and how advances in harvesting the energy of the sun, such as organic solar cells and artificial photosynthesis, are being inspired by nature.

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Contact and Further Information

Dr Deirdre Black
Senior Programme Manager, Physical Sciences
Royal Society of Chemistry Thomas Graham House, Science Park Milton Road, Cambridge CB4 0WF
Tel: +44 (0)1223 432376