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COmbined suN-Driven Oxidation and CO2 Reduction for renewable energy storage

Periodic Reporting for period 1 - CONDOR (COmbined suN-Driven Oxidation and CO2 Reduction for renewable energy storage)

Reporting period: 2020-11-01 to 2022-04-30

Over 80% of the world’s primary energy supply is currently provided by fossil fuels. Nowadays, we can clearly perceive the fragility of our society: energy transition is urgent not only for a socio/political motivation, but also for the mitigation of climate change. The use of fossil fuels releases about 34 Gt/y of CO2 into the atmosphere, which is the primary cause for the global warming. Conversion of solar energy into electricity by photovoltaic panels is already a technologically mature field, although search of materials with enhanced performances is still very active. On the other side, conversion of solar energy into fuels, the so-called solar fuels, is at a much lower level of advancement with respect to electricity. CONDOR targets the production of solar fuels and added value chemicals by processes and devices that are solely powered by sunlight and do not rely on external energy input and by the exploitation of materials that are robust, low cost and tolerant to impurities.

The overall objective of CONDOR (https://condor-h2020.eu/) is to build up a modular laboratory demonstrator for solar driven production of energy carriers, i.e. methanol and dimethyl ether and added value chemicals from biomass valorisation. Reactants are simple molecules and waste chemicals such as water (H2O) and carbon dioxide (CO2) or biomass derived alcohols. The only energy source to drive the process is sunlight. This is the most convenient way to store an intrinsically intermittent primary energy source (sunlight) into high energy density products that can be used whenever needed. The CONDOR device is composed of two compartments: (1) a photoelectrochemicall cell, in which water and carbon dioxide are converted into higher value chemicals, CO and H2; (2) a reactor for the conversion of CO and H2 (syngas) generated in compartment 1 into CH3OH and DME by heterogeneous catalysis.
The first 18 months of activities resulted in the synthesis of high-performance molecular and nanostructured catalysts for the oxidation and reduction reactions taking place in the photoelectrochemical cell (compartment 1) and nanostructured catalysts for syngas conversion into fuels (compartment 2). These materials, as well as photoelectrodic materials were thoroughly characterised in terms of structure, morphology, composition, optical and electrochemical properties. Laboratory-scale photoelectrochemical cells have been assembled and tested in terms of performance and (photo)stability. Different catalysts have been tested within flow reactors for the conversion of syngas into fuels. A study on the CONDOR technology in terms of materials sustainability and environmental impact has been done and will be implemented in the next future.
The project is expected to implement a laboratory-scale prototype comprising both compartments and to test it over a 3-month outdoor operation. This represents a large progress with respect to the state of the art. Social acceptance will be pursued by workshops and public demonstrations of the CONDOR prototype to make citizens aware of new technologies that will decrease human addiction to fossil fuels and mitigate climate change and pollution.
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