Ancient to Future Solar Fuels

The Solar Fuels Summer Science Exhibition in under 5 minutes

We have made a little video of our experience this summer, from loading the van, setting up, our amazing volunteers and our interactions with all you future scientists. Hope you enjoy!

Suzannah and Rhiannon recently attended the 10th International Hydrogenase Conference, this year held in Szeged, Hungary.

Their research towards the understanding of the biological catalyst capable of making and breaking down molecular hydrogen (H2) was presented in front of the World’s specialists in the field.

It is through an understanding of how these enzymes work at rates and efficiencies that rival the best hydrogen catalyst - Platinum - that we will be able to inspire man-made catalysts for hydrogen production and limit the need for using fossil fuels.

You can read more about hydrogenases in our earlier post below.

Hydrogen-powered ferry launches in Bristol!

One of the major future implications of our research is the creation of a clean, storable fuel - such as hydrogen - using energy from the sun. But what could we actually use this fuel for? Well, it could be used in Bristol’s new ‘green’  ferry! 

Photograph: Graham Turner for the Guardian

Read more about Hydrogenesis, the UK’s first hydrogen-powered ferry.

Jas Singh, spokesman for the consortium, said he hoped Hydrogenesis could be the start of a new chapter in Bristol’s proud maritime tradition.

Singh said: “The project has put Bristol on the world map amongst the pioneers of the emerging hydrogen economy. This could be the beginning of a new industrial revolution.”

So you want to know more?

We have divided our publications into those exploring the mechanism of the fuel producing enzymes we use, and their incorporation in to artificial photosynthesis systems.

Enzyme mechanism publications

1)      Evans, Rhiannon M., Parkin, Alison., Roessler, Maxie M., Murphy, Bonnie J., Adamson, Hope., Lukey, Michael J., Sargent, Frank., Volbeda, Anne., Fontecilla-Camps, Juan C., Armstrong, Fraser A. (2013) Principles of Sustained Enzymatic Hydrogen Oxidation in the Presence of Oxygen – The Crucial Influence of High Potential Fe–S Clusters in the Electron Relay of [NiFe]-Hydrogenases J. Am. Chem. Soc., 135, pp., 2694–2707. doi: 10.1021/ja311055d

2)      Hexter, Suzannah. V., Grey, Felix., Happe, Thomas., Climent, V., Armstrong, F. A. Electrocatalytic mechanism of reversible hydrogen cycling by enzymes and distinctions between the major classes of hydrogenases. Proc. Natl. Acad. Sci. U. S. A. 109, pp., 11516-11521. doi: 10.1073/pnas.1204770109

3)      Parkin, Alison. and Sargent, Frank (2012) The hows and whys of aerobic H2 metabolism. Current Opinion in Chemical Biology. Current Opinion in Chemical Biology., 16, pp., 26-34. doi: 10.1016/j.cbpa.2012.01.012

4)      Volbeda, Anne., Amara, Patricia., Darnault, Claudine., Mouesca, Jean-Marie., Parkin, Alison., Roessler, Maxie M., Armstrong, Fraser A., Fontecilla-Camps, Juan C., (2012) X-ray crystallographic and computational studies of the O2-tolerant [NiFe]-hydrogenase 1 from Escherichia coli. Proc. Natl. Acad. Sci. U. S. A. 109, pp., 5305-5310. doi: 10.1073/pnas.1119806109

Artificial photosynthesis systems

On the utilisation of enzymes as fuel producing catalysts in artificial photosynthetic systems, the following three articles highlight the research of our laboratory.

5)      Erwin Reisner, Juan C. Fontecilla-Camps and Fraser A. Armstrong. (2009) Catalytic electrochemistry of a [NiFeSe]-hydrogenase on TiO2 and demonstration of its suitability for visible-light driven H2 production. Chem Commun. 2009, pp., 550-552. doi:10.1039/B817371K

6)      Thomas W. Woolerton, Sally Sheard, Erwin Reisner, Elizabeth Pierce, Stephen W. Ragsdale and Fraser A. Armstrong. (2010) Efficient and Clean Photoreduction of CO2 to CO by Enzyme-Modified TiO2 Nanoparticles Using Visible Light. J. Am. Chem. Soc. 132, pp., 2132–2133. doi: 10.1021/ja910091z

7)      Yatendra S Chaudhary, Thomas W. Woolerton, Christopher S Allen, Jamie H Warner, Elizabeth Pierce, Stephen W Ragsdale, Fraser A Armstrong. (2012) Visible light-driven CO2 reduction by enzyme coupled CdS nanocrystals Chem Commun. 48, pp., 58-60. doi: 10.1039/C1CC16107E

Thank you to everyone who came and visited our stand! We had a blast, and we hope you did too. Get in touch if you have any questions (solarfuels@chem.ox.ac.uk) and don’t forget to plant that solar fuel and submit your results! 

During the Summer Science Exhibition we got a lot of questions about the commercialization potential of our research.

We believe that an integrated artificial photosynthesis and fuel producing system may be able to be manufactured and scaled up in the next 20-30 years.

However, the amazing thing about fundamental research and blue skies thinking is that there is no telling which amazing places it might lead… 

Just look at these incredible inventions that weren’t all about the money! 

Why did we have these beautiful flowers on our stand?
The fossil fuels we rely on are the remains of ancient plants and animals which used the sun to grow and survive millions of years ago. They are concentrated stores of ‘ancient’ solar energy.
Our science is inspired by the way nature has been able to harness energy from the sun and we are working towards artificial photosynthesis (APS) systems which could mimic this process in the lab. 
Thank you to all the wonderful people who helped to knit these lovely flowers.

Why did we have these beautiful flowers on our stand?

The fossil fuels we rely on are the remains of ancient plants and animals which used the sun to grow and survive millions of years ago. They are concentrated stores of ‘ancient’ solar energy.

Our science is inspired by the way nature has been able to harness energy from the sun and we are working towards artificial photosynthesis (APS) systems which could mimic this process in the lab. 

Thank you to all the wonderful people who helped to knit these lovely flowers.

How many solar fuel scientists can you spot in this summer science exhibition video?

The Glove Box!

In the Armstrong Group we use a piece of lab equipment called a glove box. This bit of kit can be used to study molecules or proteins that  can’t survive in normal air because they are sensitive to oxygen. 

For example, the hydrogenase enzymes that produce hydrogen in our artificial photosynthesis systems can be sensitive to oxygen so we have to study them in glove boxes. 

The glove box is tightly sealed, so all of the oxygen can be removed and replaced with another type of gas, such as a nitrogen. To make sure no oxygen is introduced by accident, we have to use big neoprene gloves when we work inside the glove box. 

At the Royal Society Summer Exhibition, we set up a glove box for all of our visitors to try. The object was to complete a circuit game to power a marble run. Despite wearing huge sticking gloves some people were still incredibly dexterous - the fastest time to complete the circuit was under 10 seconds!

The team has been enjoying the exhibition so far and we hope you have too!  The photos above show the team enjoying Wednesdays night Soiree and then (most excitingly) finding a Summer Science Exhibition poster on our way home.  Now nearly halfway through there is still some time if you would like to visit us at our stand, where you can learn all about the research we are doing into developing future Solar Fuels.  Come and ask us a question or two!