The future of energy supply depends on innovative breakthroughs regarding the design of cheap, sustainable and efficient systems for the conversion and storage of renewable energy sources. Actually, the amount of solar energy reaching the Earth is several orders of magnitude greater than that required for human development so that even low conversion efficiency would be sufficient to solve the upcoming energetic crisis. The issue now is to find a way to store this energy since worldwide energy demand does not correlate with the availability of sunlight.
Nature stores solar energy into chemical bonds thanks to photosynthesis. Thanks to light harvesting units and a proper enzymatic machinery, plants, algae and some bacteria convert light, carbon dioxide and water into C,H, N and/or O-containing compounds, later used as fuels, feedstocks and also biomaterials. Hydrogen is one of these fuels with high potential for the ecological transition. Ammonia production via nitrogen fixation is another biological process related to a key societal challenge, food supply.
The production of « solar fuels » and other chemical feedstocks through light-driven reduction of water, CO2 or other abundant resources (O2, N2…) is one of the greatest challenges of the 21st century. It would allow for the establishment of a true circular economy, with recycling of anthropogenic CO2. To achieve this challenge, we can take inspiration from Nature. Since 2002, the SolHyCat team develops bio-inspired chemistry for hydrogen production, including the development of nanomaterials and artificial hydrogenases. The group is also involved in the design of bio-inspired catalysts for CO2 reduction and the lastly launched project targets the development of innovative catalytic systems for the reduction of N2 into ammonia. One important objective of our research is the development of light-driven catalysis and more particularly of photoelectrochemical systems.
Our research program is structured in the following three interconnected pillars: