ASU researchers working to extract clean fuel from sunlight

sunrise over a mountain ridgeOne of the most consequential questions of our time is: How do we generate enough energy to meet our needs? The question is particularly important as previously reliable sources of energy, such as oil and coal, have been proven to pollute our planet with consequences ranging from a degrading air quality to a tilt in the fragile balance of the global climate. In an effort to address the question, researchers from the Biodesign Center for Applied Structural Discovery at Arizona State University are exploring new technologies that could generate alternate methods of energy to satisfy global demand. One of those alternate sources of energy is sunlight. In research published in the Journal of the American Chemical Society, lead author Brian Wadsworth and his colleagues Anna Beiler, Diana Khusnutdinova, Edgar Reyes Cruz and corresponding author Gary Moore looked to nature for hints on how to develop new technologies for producing fuels that are carbon free or neutral. They describe technologies that can bring together light-gathering semiconductors and catalytic materials capable of chemical reactions that produce clean fuel. As global demand for energy is projected to swell to more than double by mid-century, research like this is urgent. However, more work needs to be done before technologies using such solar-to-fuels solutions are ready for mass production. Moore, who is both a scholar in the Julie Ann Wrigley Global Institute of Sustainability and an assistant professor in the School of Molecular Sciences says: “Biological assemblies have the ability to self-repair and reproduce; technological assemblies have been limited in this aspect. It’s one area where we can learn more from biology.”