The challenge is to build a fully functional, bench-scale prototype of an artificial photosynthesis based system which is able to produce a useable synthetic fuel.
Artificial photosynthesis is widely considered to be among the most promising new technologies to deliver sustainable alternatives to current fuel supplies. Due to its ability to use a combination of sunlight, water and carbon from the air to produce energy, artificial photosynthesis is regarded as a potential breakthrough energy technology. It can be used to produce hydrogen or carbon-based fuels – collectively referred to as “solar fuels” – which offer an efficient and transportable means of storage of solar energy. Solar energy, in turn, can be used as an alternative to fossil fuels and as a feedstock for a wide range of industrial processes.
The device to be built needs to integrate the whole process from light capture to fuel production and be capable of powering a small engine. The production of fuel in the form of hydrogen and the use of conventional photovoltaic cells for the light harvesting process or to collect light and electrolysers are not permitted.
For the purpose of this prize, artificial photosynthesis (AP) is understood to be a process that aims at mimicking the physical chemistry of natural photosynthesis by absorbing solar energy in the form of photons. The solution is required to use this energy to generate fuel molecules through a synthetic system to be delivered as a single integrated device that utilises either biomimetic, nanotechnology, synthetic biology or a combination of these systems.
Meeting the challenge will stimulate innovation and focus research and development towards energy applications in a new energy technology through increased public and commercial interest. Moreover, it will accelerate the development of new innovative energy conversion systems using solar light and natural elements to produce renewable fuels to be used in industry, housing and transport.
The challenge will also create a stimulus for industrial participation and creation of start-ups, pushing the artificial photosynthesis technology for fuel production to the next level of development.
Considering the innovative approach and the novelty of using artificial photosynthesis for fuel production, the prize will generate interest in the subject and foster interdisciplinary collaboration among potential applicants, such as students, young researchers and engineers. The competition is expected to highlight the diversity of potential solutions.
The specific rules of the contest will be published in the fourth quarter of 2017 by the European Commission, which will directly launch and manage the contest and award the prize based on the judgement of independent experts.
A number of innovative devices and systems demonstrating the use of sunlight to produce a fuel ready to be used.
Illustration Photo: Brookhaven’s Dmitry Polyansky is examining a vial containing a specialized catalyst designed to help convert solar energy into fuel. Producing clean-burning hydrogen fuel from just sunlight and water requires custom-built catalysts for water oxidation, the part of the water-splitting process that generates oxygen atoms. A tiny amount of the solid catalyst, developed in collaboration with the University of Houston, dissolves and turns the water that lovely shade of blue. The hardware behind Polyansky includes lasers used to study and later improve the catalytic process in these promising materials. (credits: Brookhaven National Laboratory / Flickr Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs 2.0 Generic (CC BY-NC-ND 2.0))