£1.1 million grant for Chemistry

plant in sunlight

Dr Alex Cowan from the Department of Chemistry has been awarded a five year EPSRC Fellowship totalling £1.1M to explore the reduction of carbon dioxide by catalysts using sunlight as the energy source (photocatalysts) to produce chemical fuels in a form of artificial photosynthesis.

Sunlight provides more than 8000 times the amount of energy needed to meet the entire global energy requirements for humankind in a year but its intermittent nature makes energy storage a necessity if solar is to become the dominant energy resource.

Alex, who is based within the Stephenson Institute for Renewable Energy, will collaborate with scientists in UK and USA to consider how they might tap into this abundant energy source to provide a clean route to a range of carbon based fuels and chemical feedstock’s such as methanol, methane and carbon monoxide. Methanol is an attractive target as it can be used directly as a fuel in heat engines and in fuel cells, whilst carbon monoxide is a key industrial gas which can be reacted with hydrogen to form a range of liquid hydrocarbon fuels.

Methanol is an attractive target as it can be used directly as a fuel in heat engines and in fuel cells.

The development of new materials to produce chemical fuels using solar energy, carbon dioxide and water as the feedstock’s in a form of artificial photosynthesis has the long term potential to transform the energy landscape, offering a secure, renewable route to fuels.


Scientists at Liverpool will be working on a range of new hybrid materials that couple solid light absorbing semiconductors to molecular catalysts.

A key factor in the work will be the use of laser based measurements to monitor the reaction mechanisms occurring on these hybrid materials. Through the use of fast pulsed lasers it is possible to record snapshots of the steps of the chemical reactions with a time resolution of less than 10 nanoseconds.

Dr Cowan explained: “Currently the state of the art materials for artificial photosynthesis are some way off the levels of efficiency and cost required to make the technology viable. Here at Liverpool, we will be carrying out experiments to identify the factors behind these low efficiencies which will allow us to identify the design rules for a more efficient catalyst. We’ll then work with our collaborators to put these rules into practice in a new generation of more efficient catalysts for the production of fuels from carbon dioxide.”

plant in sunshine


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