An artificial photosynthetic system that directly produces fuels from sunlight could provide an approach to scalable energy storage and a technology for the carbon-neutral production of high-energy-density transportation fuels. A variety of designs are currently being explored to create a viable artificial photosynthetic system, and the most technologically advanced systems are based on semiconducting photoelectrodes. Here, I discuss the development of an approach that is based on an architecture, first conceived around a decade ago, that combines arrays of semiconducting microwires with flexible polymeric membranes. I highlight the key steps that have been taken towards delivering a fully functional solar fuels generator, which have exploited advances in nanotechnology at all hierarchical levels of device construction, and include the discovery of earth-abundant electrocatalysts for fuel formation and materials for the stabilization of light absorbers. Finally, I consider the remaining scientific and engineering challenges facing the fulfilment of an artificial photosynthetic system that is simultaneously safe, robust, efficient and scalable.
ASJC Scopus subject areas
- Atomic and Molecular Physics, and Optics
- Biomedical Engineering
- Materials Science(all)
- Condensed Matter Physics
- Electrical and Electronic Engineering