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Engineering Bio-Inspired Systems for the Conversion of Solar Energy to Hydrogen

Project description

A bio-inspired approach to converting solar energy into storable hydrogen fuel

The photosynthesis process in plants commences with energy absorption by light-harvesting complexes. These pigment–protein complexes can absorb and transfer energy with high speed and efficiency to the reaction centre, the site of solar-energy conversion. Inspired by this natural process, the EU-funded BioInspired_SolarH2 project aims to engineer artificial systems that can convert solar energy into hydrogen – a clean and renewable fuel. To this end, the researchers will construct robust chromophore–protein assemblies able to exploit coherence to ensure the efficient collection and conversion of solar energy. To further investigate these systems, they will apply steady-state and time-resolved spectroscopic methods. Storable hydrogen fuel holds great promise for replacing fossil fuels.


With this proposal, I aim to achieve the efficient conversion of solar energy to hydrogen. The overall objective is to engineer bio-inspired systems able to convert solar energy into a separation of charges and to construct devices by coupling these systems to catalysts in order to drive sustainable and effective water oxidation and hydrogen production.

The global energy crisis requires an urgent solution, we must replace fossil fuels for a renewable energy source: Solar energy. However, the efficient and inexpensive conversion and storage of solar energy into fuel remains a fundamental challenge. Currently, solar-energy conversion devices suffer from energy losses mainly caused by disorder in the materials used. The solution to this problem is to learn from nature. In photosynthesis, the photosystem II reaction centre (PSII RC) is a pigment-protein complex able to overcome disorder and convert solar photons into a separation of charges with near 100% efficiency. Crucially, the generated charges have enough potential to drive water oxidation and hydrogen production.

Previously, I have investigated the charge separation process in the PSII RC by a collection of spectroscopic techniques, which allowed me to formulate the design principles of photosynthetic charge separation, where coherence plays a crucial role. Here I will put these knowledge into action to design efficient and robust chromophore-protein assemblies for the collection and conversion of solar energy, employ organic chemistry and synthetic biology tools to construct these well defined and fully controllable assemblies, and apply a complete set of spectroscopic methods to investigate these engineered systems.

Following the approach Understand, Engineer, Implement, I will create a new generation of bio-inspired devices based on abundant and biodegradable materials that will drive the transformation of solar energy and water into hydrogen, an energy-rich molecule that can be stored and transported.

Host institution

Net EU contribution
€ 1 500 000,00
43007 Tarragona

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Este Cataluña Tarragona
Activity type
Research Organisations
Total cost
€ 1 500 000,00

Beneficiaries (1)