Synthetic Energy Systems

The ACES Synthetic Energy Systems theme uses new advanced materials to create devices in three key energy-related areas: solar fuels, energy storage and thermal energy conversion.

Grand Challenge: Contribute to the development of global sustainable energy supply.

Our Synthetic Energy Systems program utilises advanced materials to develop innovative and sustainable energy technologies and devices.

Solar Fuels and Chemicals – there is a significant opportunity to use the growing supply of captured carbon dioxide to produce high value chemicals and fuels. We use 3D structured materials to develop electrochemical carbon dioxide reduction processes that are driven by solar energy to produce materials and fuels such as methanol, while ensuring the energy processes for conversion are generated from sustainable resources.

Energy Storage Solutions – there is a critical environmental need to develop energy storage solutions for large-scale electric vehicle and renewable energy grid support applications. We are utilising new 3D materials to develop devices including redox flow-air batteries and bio-compatible batteries for incorporation into implantable bionic devices, with crucial improvements in device performance including higher energy density, and improved safety and stability.

Thermal Energy Harvesting – waste heat from your body, your car, your home and your business is a valuable source of sustainable energy. We are developing thermocell devices (thermo-electrochemical cells) to harvest waste heat that can continually produce electricity without harmful CO2 emissions.

 

Our Strengths: Our development of new electromaterials, such as ionic liquids and organic conducting systems, is opening new opportunities for energy conversion and storage. Our ability to structure these materials in 3D is creating a fundamental shift in energy device design, resulting in crucial improvements in device performance.

 

Research Goals:

Investigate the effects of distributing light harvesting moieties, reactive centres and electromaterials throughout 3D structures.

Use 3D structured materials to:

  • Develop electrochemical CO2 reduction processes driven by solar energy.
  • Improve batteries by increasing the active surface area and reducing diffusion path-lengths.
  • Produce redox couples and non-volatile electrolytes for high efficiency thermal harvesting.

 

Applications:

  • Methanol generation via solar-driven CO2 reduction.
  • Redox flow-air batteries.
  • Bio-compatible batteries for implantable bionic devices.
  • Efficient and long-lasting thermo-electrochemical cells.

 

Case Study

The Project: Solar Fuels.

Challenge: Developing ways to use solar energy to generate useful liquid fuels from CO2.

The Research: This project aims to develop novel catalysts for the CO2 electro-reduction process, and incorporate them into 3D structured electrodes to optimise the reaction mechanism. The process itself produces a range of carbon containing compounds, and the team will work to separate and analyse them.

Ultimately, the team will develop a process that produces one main product.

To drive the process, the team aims to optimise the input of solar energy.

In the first stage, the team used a wired design based on high-efficiency solar cells. In later stages, the sunlight may be directly used to drive reaction.

The Impact: Solar generation of liquid fuels will provide a cleaner source of fuels for high-energy transportation applications such as aircraft, long-range heavy vehicles and shipping.

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