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Powering the Planet - Phase II

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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

The Powering the Planet Center for Chemical Innovation (CCI Solar) is an NSF-supported center that focuses on one of the outstanding problems in 21st Century science – the efficient and economical conversion of solar energy into stored chemical fuels.  Through this CCI, the NSF has established a partnership with the scientific community to develop the fundamental enabling chemistry that will ultimately deliver clean fuels produced from the sun.
Investigators in the CCI will focus on the development of a three-component solar water splitting system. The components are: (i) a membrane-supported assembly that captures sunlight and efficiently creates separated electrons and holes having sufficient chemical potential to drive the water-splitting reactions; (ii) a two-electron catalyst to facilitate reduction of water to H2 at the cathode; and (iii) a four-electron catalyst for water oxidation to O2 at the anode.

Using novel nano- and micro- semiconductor structures, CCI-Solar Investigators will develop membranes capable of both efficient charge separation and proton management functions. Researchers with expertise in chemical synthesis and mechanistic chemistry will design new catalysts that can accept the holes and electrons from the photovoltaic membrane and convert them into O2 and H2.

Education & Outreach

The Center will train a diverse and talented pool of students in the technical skills needed for the solution of this critical challenge. It will incorporate underrepresented groups through partnering with specific undergraduate institutions and providing broad access to research scientists through both direct and virtual (videoconference) interactions. Outside of the laboratory, the Center participants will help develop innovative curricula for high school, undergraduate, and graduate students. Researchers will raise the public's awareness of the challenges of the energy problem, how solar energy can contribute to its solution, the nature of the fundamental scientific challenges in developing a water-splitting device, and the impact of the Center's research through public lectures, national TV and radio programs. Further, researchers will work with several major business leaders and companies in the U.S. to help them develop a position that contributes positively to the energy and sustainability challenges confronting the planet.

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