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Powering the Planet: A Chemical Bonding Center in the Direct Conversion of Sunlight into Chemical Fuel

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POWERING THE PLANET: A Chemical Bonding Center in the Direct Conversion of Sunlight into Chemical Fuel  (California Institute of Technology)

Research Focus & Anticipated Benefits

Powering the Planet, a Chemical Bonding Center in the Direct Conversion of Sunlight into Chemical Fuel, better known as CCI-Solar, is a Center for Chemical Innovation (CCI) funded by the National Science Foundation (NSF). Solar energy research is inherently interdisciplinary, involving inorganic and organic synthesis, solid state chemistry and physics, electrochemistry, chemical kinetics and mechanisms, and theoretical and computational chemistry. In addition, it involves concepts of homogeneous and interfacial chemistry between solids, liquids, and gases.

Investigators at CCI-Solar focus on the development of a three-component solar water splitting system. These components are: (i) a membrane-supported assembly that captures sunlight and then efficiently separates and transports charge, (ii) a two-electron catalyst that reduces water to hydrogen, and (iii) a four-electron catalyst that oxidizes water to oxygen. This interdisciplinary effort will involve semiconductor materials, polymeric and inorganic membranes, synthesis, theory, and mechanistic chemistry. The basic science pursued at CCI-Solar will provide the foundation for future carbon-neutral energy technologies.

Education & Outreach

The CCI Solar outreach programs include cooperative work with other institutions, research opportunities for a wide variety of individuals, media appearances, and more. Universities and colleges interested in partnering with the CCI Powering the Planet Project to expand opportunities for groups under-represented in the chemistry profession are encouraged to contact the Project. Two CCI member institutions, Cal-State LA (CSULA) and Southern University (SU), play a particularly important role in bringing CCI research opportunities to under-represented groups.

The Solar Hydrogen Activity Research Kit (SHArK) Project was initiated in 2008 by Dr. Bruce Parkinson at the University of Wyoming. The project provides a unique approach to learning chemistry that engages young people in actual research to help solve the global energy problem. The goal of this project, already adopted at numerous colleges and high schools across the country and in Canada, is to find a metal oxide semiconductor material that can split water into hydrogen and oxygen using sunlight.

The Proton-Coupled Electron Transfer Web site supported by CCI provides basic information on proton-coupled electron-transfer (PCET) reactions as well as tools to calculate PCET rates. PCET reactions are ubiquitous and play a critical role in a variety of chemical and biological processes including photosynthesis and respiration.

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Related Institutions

Brookhaven National Laboratory
British Petroleum
California State University, Los Angeles
École Polytechnique Fédérale de Lausanne
Massachusetts Institute of Technology
Michigan State University
Pennsylvania State University
Purdue University
Southern California Edison
Southern University and A&M College
Stanford University Global Climate & Energy Project
Texas A&M University
University of California, Davis
University of Rochester
University of Wisconsin, Madison
University of Wyoming


  • Photo of equipment to extract oxygen from water
Researchers at MIT have discovered a new, efficient catalyst that extracts oxygen gas from water. Thr program is part of Powering the Planet, one of NSF's Centers for Chemical Innovation (CCI).
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