The goal of this EFR Center is to design and construct a device that uses sunlight to convert water cheaply and efficiently into hydrogen fuel and oxygen. Society requires a renewable source of fuel that is geographically widely distributed, abundant, inexpensive and environmentally clean. The use of solar energy to produce a clean fuel such as hydrogen is essentially the only process that can satisfy these criteria at a scale large enough to meet the worlds energy demands. Plants and similar organisms use photosynthesis to oxidize water, producing oxygen and chemically reduced compounds such as carbohydrate and hydrogen that can be used as fuel. This process is responsible for all of the fossil fuel that powers society today. Center researchers at Arizona State University will use the information garnered from photosynthesis to design an artificial system for solar fuel production that is inspired by nature. Using the techniques of organic chemistry, they will create an artificial photosynthetic reaction center that absorbs sunlight and uses the resulting energy to separate positive and negative charges, yielding energy stored in chemically oxidizing and reducing equivalents. A novel bioinspired water oxidation catalyst, harboring a multi-metal active site coordinated by synthetic peptides that are, in turn, organized by an engineered DNA nanostructure, will use oxidizing equivalents from the reaction center to oxidize water to molecular oxygen and liberate protons. A proton reduction catalyst, based on natural hydrogen-producing enzymes and constructed from synthetic peptides and metal ions, will use the reducing equivalents from the reaction center to convert the protons from water oxidation into hydrogen fuel. The various parts of the device will be functionally and structurally organized by new metal oxide nanostructures deposited on solid supports. Based on the performance of natural photosynthesis, the synthetic system has the potential to produce fuel efficiently from sunlight and water, to be inexpensive, to use earthabundant elements, and to be a practical solution to humanitys energy problems. While pursuing this ambitious goal, the Center will uncover basic scientific knowledge that will point the way to new catalysts for water splitting and fuel cells, new materials for solar photovoltaics of various kinds, new ways to use DNA and peptides for preparation of artificial enzymes for biomedical and other technological applications, and new fundamental ways of understanding and manipulating matter that will have applications in many different areas of technology. It may also help identify ways to modify natural photosynthesis in plants so that it can better fill humanitys needs. This multidisciplinary project will draw upon the expertise of 11 faculty at ASU in the areas of protein structure and function, DNA nanoscience, materials science, photochemistry, organic and inorganic synthesis, nanoscale systems engineering, and de novo peptide design, establishing a high-visibility international center for renewable energy research. In addition it will feature a research program that investigates how best to incorporate new discoveries in energy research into technological advances and the fabric of daily life. The center will also serve as a resource for students at all levels, the general public, and governmental policy makers for information about solar and renewable energy, and train new generations of energy researchers.t
Effective start/end date8/1/094/30/15


  • US Department of Energy (DOE): $13,644,631.00


Hydrogen fuels
Photosynthetic Reaction Center Complex Proteins
Molecular oxygen
Photochemical reactions
Materials science
Systems engineering
Fossil fuels