Energy in society
Our society stands and falls with abundant availability of cheap energy. The social expectations on our energy resources change over time. Demands that the main bulk of the energy shall come from renewable, sustainable and environmentally friendly sources are becoming imperative. In particular, the demand for environmental compliance has grown stronger and stronger as the increasing knowledge about the green house effect, due to CO2 release, has become established among the public and politically recognized. Today, global warming is probably considered to be the largest environmental problem. Demands that new energy sources must not result in further heating of the atmosphere increase continuously. Sustainability is also a key issue and fossil fuels are not a long-term solution, neither to our country´s demands nor on the international scene. Some consider nuclear power to be a future solution. However, there are many who have concerns surrounding nuclear power and in most countries this seems difficult to accept. Instead many call for renewable and sustainable energy systems, based on solar energy, water and wind.
Vision in the project
In our project we wish to use solar energy. There are established ways to make electrical power from solar energy with solar cell technologies. Our intention is not to make electricity! We live in the North. In the winter, Sweden's energy demand is enormous but solar energy is limited due to the short days. In contrast, during the "light" time of the year this changes dramatically with the arrival of the long days. Seen over the entire year the available solar energy in Sweden is not much less that in the Mediterranean countries. We wish to use this abundance of solar energy to make a fuel from solar energy in the summer and use this fuel in the winter (or whenever it is needed).
We have chosen to develop two novel ways, artificial photosynthesis and a photobiological approach, to produce hydrogen. Hydrogen is an environmentally friendly energy carrier that many hope shall exchange for fossil fuels. One reason is that only water is regenerated when hydrogen is either combusted or used in a fuel cell.
To accomplish this, in an environmentally friendly and sustainable way, the hydrogen must be made from cheap and easily available starting-materials. We have chosen solar energy and water, which are abundant everywhere and will never be exhausted. However, "it is easier said than done" to make hydrogen directly from solar energy and water, and the process has not been accomplished in man-made, molecular systems before. Therefore we seek inspiration from plants, which already use water to make their "internal" fuel. And there is much to learn from the plants! The overall idea in our project is to make hydrogen from solar energy and water. Our targets are briefly described in Figure 1.
Overall strategy - bridging many fields. Our science is complex and demands front line research and technology from many fields. It covers fields as different as chemical design and synthesis, physical chemistry, advanced spectroscopy of many kinds, biochemistry, biophysics, molecular biology and gene-technology to bio-reactor design and technology. This can neither be covered by a single scientist nor be accomplished by a single research group or ordinary university department.
Therefore we have, over a 10-year period, assembled (and also self-educated and trained) the necessary expertise in an integrated research body, known as the Swedish Consortium for Artificial Photosynthesis. From the start, the Consortium has been driven by a dedicated will to combine an applied research idea with the spirit, motivation and ideals from basic research. We have chosen to call this "targeted basic research.