Solar-Driven Chemistry - A Vision for Sustainable Chemistry Production


Modern life is sustained by an unremitting stream of energy that is delivered to final users as fuels, electricity, and heat. Currently, over 80% of the world’s primary energy supply is provided by fossil fuels carbon sources (coal, oil, gas). For the last two centuries fossil fuels, generated from biomass over millions of years, have been extensively used in anthropic activities. When we burn fossil fuels, we liberate the solar energy stored millions of years earlier in chemical bonds, but we are also generating CO2 as waste. Over the last few decades it has become clear that the CO2 that is released in this way is affecting the climate stability of the biosphere. Therefore there is a need for an energy transition from fossil fuels to nonfossil-based energies. This transition has already started and must be completed during the present century. The sun gives us an opportunity to complete this energy revolution as it delivers the same energy to the Earth in about one hour as we currently use from fossil fuels, nuclear power and all renewable energy sources combined in a year. Yet, sunlight is a dilute form of energy. It needs to be converted into other forms of energy in order to be used in a profitable way, such as heat, electricity, or fuels.

Nature stores solar energy in carbon-based chemical compounds that mankind has long used as an energy source. In plants, algae and some types of bacteria, solar-driven systems are capable of converting carbon dioxide and water into C,H,O-containing compounds. Photosynthesis is a way to capture solar energy and store it in the form of chemical bonds. The compounds thus produced can be used as fuels, but also (bio-)materials or chemical feedstock. Developing artificial systems on an industrial scale that generate such compounds from the same sources (i.e. solar radiation, water, CO2) is a great challenge. Ideally, such man-made, ecologically friendly energy systems should be more efficient than their natural counterparts, to keep pace with our consumption while making our energy utilization sustainable.

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The document is based on the presentations at a brainstorming workshop on “Solar-driven Chemistry” on October 9, 201 5 in Berlin, organized by the Deutsche Forschungsgemeinschaft (DFG, represented by Georg Bechtold) and the European Association of Chemical and Molecular Sciences (EuCheMS, represented by Ulrich Schubert, TU Wien). Participating experts were Nicola Armaroli (CNR Bologna), Vincent Artero (Université Grenoble Alpes, CNRS and CEA), Gabriele Centi (University of Messina), Angela Dibenedetto (University of Bari), Leif Hammarström (University of Uppsala), Guido Mul (University of Twente), Christopher Pickett (University of East Anglia), Sven Rau (University of Ulm) and Joost N. H. Reek (University of Amsterdam). The first version of this document was written by Ina Helms. EuCheMS gratefully acknowledges financial and organizational support by DFG.

The White Paper was Published by EuCheMS
Nineta Hrastelj Majcen (EuCheMS General Secretary) Bruno Vilela (EuCheMS Public Affairs Officer)
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ISBN 978-2-9601 655-2-4



September 2016