Artificial Photosynthesis: Faraday Discussion

25 - 27 March 2019, Cambridge, United Kingdom


Artificial photosynthesis is a process that converts solar energy into a renewable fuel, a so-called solar fuel. This rapidly developing and growing area addresses a global challenge of the 21st century: the transition from a fossil fuel-based to a sustainable economy. This field is cross-disciplinary, spanning biology and chemistry to physics and engineering, with physical chemistry at its core, essential to fundamentally understand the underlying processes that enable light absorption, charge separation and efficient redox catalysis.

This Faraday Discussion meeting will be the third edition in a series on this topic (Edinburgh, 2011 and Kyoto, 2017) and will discuss recent breakthroughs and contemporary challenges in the field. The dynamic pace and progress in artificial photosynthesis research justify the timeliness of this meeting, as we are now at a decisive stage where some of the fundamental questions have been answered and applications are becoming a reality. This Faraday Discussion meeting will bring together scientists with a broad set of expertise who will share knowledge and aim to find consensus on priorities in future development of artificial photosynthesis research.‚Äč


The Faraday Division have been organising high impact Faraday Discussions in rapidly developing areas of physical chemistry and its interfaces with other scientific disciplines for over 100 years. Faraday Discussions have a special format where research papers written by the speakers are distributed to all participants before the meeting, and most of the meeting is devoted to discussing the papers. Everyone contributes to the discussion - including presenting their own relevant research. The research papers and a record of the discussion are published in the journal Faraday Discussions.


Biological approaches to artificial photosynthesis
This first session will discuss the fundamental processes in biological solar energy conversion (e.g., natural photosynthesis) and the possibilities to exploit in vivo systems for solar fuel synthesis. Early work on artificial photosynthesis was driven by progress in the understanding of natural systems and attempts to exploit in living organisms (e.g., algae). Very recent work has shown impressive progress on fundamental understanding and a renaissance in in vivo solar fuel synthesis.
Synthetic approaches to artificial photosynthesis
Rapid progress has been made in the development of molecular and materials in artificial photosynthesis. It can be difficult to keep an overview of the vast amount of new systems being reported. Many systems now claim to exceed natural photosynthesis not only in terms of solar energy conversion efficiency, but also in catalytic rate. In this second section, we will look to discuss questions such as:
  • Which are the most promising light absorbers, catalysts and photocatalysts? Should we focus on one (or a few) established systems and develop it towards application or are we reliant on new systems?
  • We have established record numbers for performance for a series of catalysts. What prevents the assembly of high performance solar fuels device? Has the field pushed for certain parameters, but has ignored other important factors?
Demonstrator Devices for Artificial Photosynthesis
Recent years have seen an explosion in different devices for solar fuel synthesis. These include two-component systems such as photovoltaic+electrolysis, one-component systems such as photoelectrochemical cell, and suspension systems such as semiconducting powders. Innovative approaches are also being developed and new concepts for device design are rapidly emerging. The development of demonstrator devices is a priority in the field and a necessity to attract the attention of companies for commercial exploration, this will be the focus of this third session.
Beyond artificial photosynthesis
Artificial photosynthesis has worked remarkably disconnected from other fields that also rely on light-driven processes. The photovoltaics field is considerably more mature and established and there is a lot to be learnt with respect to light absorption and standardisation of results. Photovoltaic technology has long been making its way to the market and the dramatic drop in prices (70-80% for standard Si technology in the last 7-8 years) will cause a significant acceleration in commercialisation. On the other hand, organic photocatalysis is a rather new (or rediscovered) field that could learn from artificial photosynthesis. This final session will look at the cross-fertilisation between these two fields.
Murray Edwards College

Murray Edwards College, University of Cambridge, Huntingdon Road, Cambridge, CB3 0DF, United Kingdom

  • Erwin Reisner (Chair) University of Cambridge, United Kingdom
  • Christine Caputo University of New Hampshire, United States
  • Fraser Armstrong University of Oxford, United Kingdom
  • Sophia Haussener EPF Lausanne, Switzerland
  • Andrew Bocarsly Princeton University, United States
  • Ryu Abe Kyoto University, Japan

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