LICROX designs a new type of solar fuel production inspired by nature

Thursday, 19 November, 2020
Close-up of a green leaf
A new Pathfinder project called LICROX explores new ways of solar fuel production based on conversion of sunlight into molecules capable of storing chemical energy.

LICROX wants to develop an innovative energy-generating system, which applies principles of photosynthesis, one of the crucial processes of global ecosystems. Photosynthesis allows some organisms (typically plants, but not only them) to convert light energy into chemical energy, which can be released later and used to “power the living” of the organisms. Therefore, artificial systems functioning similarly as photosynthesis may become a breakthrough in energy industry.  

“LICROX is a highly multidisciplinary effort where chemistry, physics, engineering, optics and social involvement specialists join together with the final aim to contribute to the global transition from fossil fuels to solar fuels” explains Prof. Antoni Llobet, the project coordinator.

The LICROX team specifies this in the project proposal:

Artificial photosynthesis mimics the natural process of converting sunlight to energy stored in chemical bonds. By doing so, it stands out as one of the most effective paths to fight the climate change. It uses only a renewable energy source that, with the appropriate catalysts, can break the carbon-oxide bond from the highly unreactive CO2 molecule to form useful products containing one or two carbons that can store large amounts of chemical energy, in gas or liquid fuels.”

The main research focuses on fabricating and testing of photoeletrochemical cells (PECs), which represent one type of such artificial photosynthesis systems that drive water oxidation and CO2 reduction using sunlight as the only external energy source.

“LICROX PEC aims to provide a portable device easy to install and use in remote places to create a fuel for heating devices or for the generation of electricity. It could be used in a range of circumstances like long term Arctic/Antarctic explorations, or in poor countries with no electrification system in place, or for charging the batteries of a fleet of vehicles for transport purposes,” continue the researchers.

The project is also in accordance with efficiency and sustainability principles:

For an effective large scale replacement of fossil fuels, such PEC must be fabricated with only abundant and non-toxic elements incorporated in low cost materials or device architectures, while avoiding large accumulations of hazardous or toxic products,” they add.

“The best photoanode and photocathode produced through the project will be implemented and validated in a final PEC prototype." states Prof. Llobet.

LICROX runs from September 2020 until August 2023 and it is coordinated at Institut Català d'Investigació Química (ICIQ). Other research participants came from Germany, Switzerland, Spain, Denmark and Italy.


Background information

FET-Open and FET Proactive are now part of the Enhanced European Innovation Council (EIC) Pilot (specifically the Pathfinder), the new home for deep-tech research and innovation in Horizon 2020, the EU funding programme for research and innovation.