Present energy needs are classified into two main sectors: a) production of electricity; b) production of chemicals and fuels for industry, transportation, and agriculture. We focus our interest on the use of clean, no cost and abundant sources like sunlight, water, carbon dioxide, and nitrogen for photovoltaics and artificial photosynthesis. In the MIB-SOLAR and FLEXILAB labs, containing an ISO7 clean room and state-of-the-art facilities, we investigate materials and devices for artificial photosynthesis and photovoltaics.
We apply the molecular approach to design and investigate dyes and catalysts for artificial photosynthetic processes, namely water splitting, reduction of carbon dioxide and artificial nitrogen fixation to ammonia. Water splitting is able to produce hydrogen, which can be used as a fuel or reactant in chemical industry. The reduction of CO2 affords a number of 1C strategic chemicals and fuels, such as HCOOH, CO, CH3OH and CH4. Fixation of nitrogen is the solar-induced alternative route of the over one century old energy intensive and strongly greenhouse gas emitting polluting Haber-Bosch process to ammonia, used for fertilizers and thus highly strategic for feeding the growing population worldwide.
Two main approaches are used: a) photocatalysis; b) photoelectrochemical cells (PEC). In particular, we focus our attention on dye-sensitized photocatalysis and PEC (DS-PEC) where the key component is a molecular antenna-dye able to efficiently absorb sunlight on the surfaces of n- and p-type high band gap semiconductor oxides.
The final target is an integrated device based on low-cost earth-abundant starting materials: the artificial leaf.