Swammerdam Institute for Life Sciences

Grant for research into solar energy storage

13 September 2016

Microbiologist Filipe Branco dos Santos and chemist Joost Reek of the University of Amsterdam have been awarded a grant by the Netherlands Organisation for Scientific Research for their research into new ways for solar energy storage.

The focus of the NWO Solar-to-Products programme is on the direct or indirect storage of solar energy by converting carbon dioxide and water in chemical bonds. In the process, carbon dioxide is transformed from a burden on the environment into a valuable resource, a promising step in the development of a more sustainable society.

Chemical solar cell

Researchers of the University of Amsterdam's Van 't Hoff Institute for Molecular Sciences (HIMS) are working on a new type of 'chemical' solar cell that utilizes sunlight for the synthesis of methanol from carbon dioxide and water.

Just as in a ‘regular’ solar cell, the chemical reactions results in a release of electrons. However, rather than releasing this electricity into the grid, the electrons are utilized in chemical reactions that will eventually produce fuel.

NWO made €500,000 available for this research project led by Prof. Joost Reek. The research will be conducted in collaboration with the German chemical company Merck and research institutes ECN and FOM-AMOLF.

Cellular factory

Thanks to a sophisticated genetic adaptation, micro-algae can be made to produce valuable bio-fuels straight out of carbon dioxide and sunlight. Up to now, these cellular factories have lacked in genetic robustness due to spontaneous mutations that diminish their productivity.

Microbiologists of the Swammerdam Institute for Life Sciences are reversing this principle: by designing the cellular factory in such a way that it can only grow when simultaneously producing the desired product. This introduces the possibility of further optimisation of the process through natural evolution.

NWO made €250,000 available for this research project led by Dr Filipe Branco dos Santos. The research will be conducted in collaboration with Photanol.

NWO programma

From the global perspective the ultimate target of this NWO programme is a transformation from an economy based predominantly on energy and materials derived from fossil resources, to an economy driven by mainly solar energy in which material cycles are closed (a circular economy).

Published by  Faculty of Science