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An Artificial Leaf: a photo-electro-catalytic cell from earth-abundant materials for sustainable solar production of CO2-based chemicals and fuels.

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a-leaf focuses on the development of photo-electro-catalytic (PEC) cell for direct conversion of water and CO2 into fuels and chemicals (CO2 reduction) and oxygen (water oxidation) using exclusively solar energy. The cell construction is based on cheap multifunction photo-electrodes able to transform sun irradiation into an electrochemical potential difference (expected efficiency > 12%); ultra-thin layers and nanoparticles of metal or metal oxide catalysts for both half-cell reactions (expected efficiency > 90%); and state-of-the-art membrane technology for gas/liquid/products separation to match a theoretical target solar to fuels efficiency above 10%. Special attention is paid to maximize performance in pH > 7 solution and moderate temperatures (50-80 ºC) as to take advantage of the high stability and favorable kinetics of constituent materials in these conditions. Key topics addressed in a-leaf:

  1. Surface sciences: development and characterization of State-of-the-art metal and metal oxide catalysts (crystals or nanostructures grown on metals or silicon) for water oxidation and CO2 reduction through spatially resolved experiments (scanning probe microscopy) and spatial-average surface techniques including surface analysis before, after and in operando electrochemical reactions.
  2. Photoelectrodes: Forschungszentrum Jülich develops and characterizes highly efficient Si based multijunction photoelectrodes with appropriate photovoltage (>2V) to facilitate bias-free photoelectrochemical reactions.
  3. Modeling: Materials, catalysts and processes modeled with computational methods as a pivotal tool to understand and to bring photo-catalytic-electrodes to their theoretical limits in terms of performance.

The selected optimum materials and environmental conditions as defined from these parallel studies will be integrated into a PEC cell prototype. This design involves ion exchange membranes and gas diffusion layers for product separation. Focus is made on the Performance in real working conditions under sun irradiation to assess the technological and industrial relevance of our a-leaf cell.

Project partners:

a-leaf partners

Institute of Chemical Research of Catalonia (ICIQ), ETHZ, University of Leiden, IMDEA Nanociencia, EPFL, TU Wien, Universitat Jaume I, Imperial College London, TUD, Forschungszentrum Jülich, University of Montpellier, INSTM, Covestro AG


Dr. Vladimir Smirnov, Dr. Tsvetelina Merdzhanova, Dr. Friedhelm Finger