A fundamental challenge to the worldwide adoption of solar energy is its intermittent nature. Solar energy must be transformed and stored. The most abundant agent to store solar energy is water. Photocatalysis for Water Splitting (PWS) with sunlight is an essentially limitless and greenhouse-gas free way to store and transform solar energy. The products of PWS are either hydrogen gas, or they are combined with CO2 to make fuels such as alcohols, methane, or higher alkanes. These fuels can be distributed with existing infrastructures and combusted with existing technology in an entirely CO2 neutral system. The activity, stability, and efficiencies of state-of-the-art PWS catalysts do not allow for widespread adoption.
In collaboration with the other groups in the UAlberta and UCalgary, we will combine fundamental studies and cutting-edge, greatly accelerated photocatalyst development with leads/guidance from the Machine-Learning/Materials Genomics Initiative. This unique, combined approach will develop next generation, earth abundant photocatalysts with seismic improvements in activity, efficiency, stability, and longevity over the current state-of-the-art systems.
A key objective is to replace precious metals like Platinum and Iridium with earth-abundant alternatives. The fundamental studies, will develop highly advanced molecular, polymeric, and materials photocatalysts/co-catalysts made of earth-abundant atoms. Co-catalysts will be developed that significantly reduce the kinetic barriers to water oxidation or CO2 reduction, thereby increasing by orders of magnitude the activity and efficiency of the photocatalysts. Hits identified by the Materials Genomics Initiative will be combined with the results from the fundamental studies. The resulting new photocatalysts will be incorporated into advanced prototype units by collaboration with academic and industrial groups within the University, the Province, and across Canada.