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Pure Appl. Chem., 2011, Vol. 83, No. 4, pp. 749-768

Published online 2011-03-14

Making solar fuels by artificial photosynthesis

Wenjing Song1, Zuofeng Chen1, M. Kyle Brennaman1, Javier J. Concepcion1, Antonio Otávio T. Patrocinio2, Neyde Y. Murakami Iha2 and Thomas J. Meyer1*

1 Department of Chemistry, University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, Chapel Hill, NC 27599-3290, USA
2 Laboratory of Photochemistry and Energy Conversion, Instituto de Química, Universidade de São Paulo, 05508-900, São Paulo, Brazil

Abstract: In order for solar energy to serve as a primary energy source, it must be paired with energy storage on a massive scale. At this scale, solar fuels and energy storage in chemical bonds is the only practical approach. Solar fuels are produced in massive amounts by photosynthesis with the reduction of CO2 by water to give carbohydrates but efficiencies are low. In photosystem II (PSII), the oxygen-producing site for photosynthesis, light absorption and sensitization trigger a cascade of coupled electron-proton transfer events with time scales ranging from picoseconds to microseconds. Oxidative equivalents are built up at the oxygen evolving complex (OEC) for water oxidation by the Kok cycle. A systematic approach to artificial photo-synthesis is available based on a “modular approach” in which the separate functions of a final device are studied separately, maximized for rates and stability, and used as modules in constructing integrated devices based on molecular assemblies, nanoscale arrays, self-assembled monolayers, etc. Considerable simplification is available by adopting a “dye-sensitized photoelectrosynthesis cell” (DSPEC) approach inspired by dye-sensitized solar cells (DSSCs). Water oxidation catalysis is a key feature, and significant progress has been made in developing a single-site solution and surface catalysts based on polypyridyl complexes of Ru. In this series, ligand variations can be used to tune redox potentials and reactivity over a wide range. Water oxidation electrocatalysis has been extended to chromophore-catalyst assemblies for both water oxidation and DSPEC applications.