Erwin Reisner, Cambridge: Solar-driven Reforming of Waste Biomass and Plastics for the Synthesis of Sustainable Fuels and Chemicals

When: Monday, 13.1.2020, 16:00

Where: Joseph Loschmidt Lecture Hall, Waehringer Strasse 42, 1090 Vienna

Artificial photosynthesis is a sustainable process that utilises solar energy to drive endothermic multi-electron chemical reactions for the production of fuels. A common drawback in photoelectrochemical systems is their reliance on expensive materials and device architectures, which challenges the development of ultimately scalable devices. Particulate photocatalysts provide a potentially lower-cost alternative, but their low efficiencies and common reliance on costly sacrificial redox reagents limit their commercial prospects.

This presentation will give an overview about our recent progress in developing semiconductor suspension systems to perform efficient full redox cycle solar catalysis using inexpensive components, and our approach for sustainable photo-reforming of waste biomass and plastics (Figure 1). The principles and design considerations for the solar-driven photo-reforming process will be compared to traditional artificial photosynthetic systems and benefits and disadvantages discussed.

Specifically, CdS/CdOx quantum dots and carbon-based materials such as carbon nitride have been recently established as suitable photocatalysts for the photo-conversion of lignocellulosic biomass and synthetic polymers such as polyethylene terephthalate (PET) and polylactic acid (PLA) in aqueous medium into H2 fuel and organic chemicals (in particular organic acids and monomeric building blocks of the polymer substrate).1-5 Thus, this ambient-temperature photo-reforming process offers a simple and low-energy means for transforming polymeric waste into fuel and bulk chemicals.

Representative Publications

(1) Uekert, Kasap, Reisner, J. Am. Chem. Soc., 2019, in press (DOI: 10.1021/jacs.9b06872)
(2) Kasap, Achilleos, Huang, Reisner, J. Am. Chem. Soc., 2018, 140, 11604.
(3) Uekert, Kuehnel, Wakerley, Reisner, Energy Environ. Sci., 2018, 11, 2853.
(4) Kuehnel, Reisner, Angew. Chem. Int. Ed., 2018, 57, 3290.
(5) Wakerley, Kuehnel, Orchard, Ly, Rosser, Reisner, Nature Energy, 2017, 2, 17021.

Erwin Reisner is Professor of Energy and Sustainability and a Fellow of St. John's College in Cambridge. He studied Chemistry at the University of Vienna, with subsequent research stays at MIT and in Oxford. Reisner's independent career started with an EPSRC research fellowship at The University of Manchester, followed by a University Lectureship at the University of Cambridge.

Figure 1. Solar-driven reforming enables the conversion of waste biomass and plastics into H2 fuel and bulk chemicals.