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Artificial photosynthesis at liquid-liquid interfaces

Project Description

Using solar energy to generate hydrogen or other fuels is an attractive way of storing electricity from renewables, thereby compensating for their inherent intermitent nature. It also adds flexibility, particularly in transport applications On the other hand, using solar energy to generate ammonia, instead of energy from fossil fuels, as in the strongly energy consuming and more than 100 years old Haber process, will contribute significantly to decrease CO2 emissions and our dependence on fossil fuels. With our project we aim at making advances in the efficient storage of solar energy in the form of chemical fuels. Our approach to developing new efficient systems is based on combining recent developments in photoelectrochemical conversion of solar energy at liquid-liquid interfaces, and on making further improvements through a novel and original architecture.

Photocatalysis provides an attractive approach to store solar energy in the form of chemical fuels. Assembling the photocatalyst at the interface between two immiscible electrolyte solutions (ITIES) adds some advantages, like the absence of direct electrical wiring of the photocatalyst to a solid electrolyte, the possibility to separate electron and hole transfer to the corresponding collectors in different liquid phases, and the ability to control the photocatalytic activity via the Galvani potential difference between the two liquids. Z-scheme systems, which mimic nature by combining two photocatalysts and an electronic coupler allow for a theoretical maximum efficiency of 40%, as opposed to 30% when using a single photocatalyst, but the highest apparent quantum yields achieved to date do not exceed 6.8%.

In this project we will assemble Z-complex systems at ITIES to photocatalyse three target reactions:

1. Water splitting
2. The reaction between CO2 and water to generate hydrocarbons and O2
3. The reaction between N2 and water to generate NH3 and O2

Work in Aberdeen will focus on water splitting and CO2 reduction, while work in Curtin will focus on ammonia synthesis and numerical modelling.

This project will essentially provide a proof of principle. Success will provide a solid basis to obtain external funding for future projects aimed at looking for more efficient combination of materials and upscaling possibilities, as well as the potential commercialisation of the process.

Applicants should have (or expect to obtain) a UK honours degree (or equivalent) at 2.1 or above (and preferably a Master degree) in Chemistry or Physics.

If English is not your first language please visit the link for details of the requirements

The start date of the project is April 2019.


Formal applications can be completed online: You should apply for Degree of Doctor of Philosophy in Chemistry (Collaboration with Curtin), to ensure that your application is passed to the correct person for processing. NOTE CLEARLY THE NAME OF THE SUPERVISOR and EXACT PROJECT TITLE ON THE APPLICATION FORM.

Informal inquiries can be made to Professor A Cuesta Ciscar () with a copy of your curriculum vitae and cover letter. All general enquiries should be directed to the Postgraduate Research School ()

Funding Notes

Fully funded studentship that includes an (international) tuition fee scholarship and stipend of £14,777 per annum in the UK (the first and third years) and AU$27,082 per annum in Australia (the second year). £1,500 will also be provided for travel between the UK and Australia, students will be responsible for their own visa costs.

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