The progress in renewable energy technology spans across different scientific disciplines. I joined the Reisner Research Group in 2020 to explore the chemical aspects of sustainable energy. One area of focus for decarbonisation is global shipping, the vast majority of which uses cargo vessels powered by fossil fuels, resulting in greenhouse gas emissions of 1,076 million tonnes a year (2018, International Maritime Organization).

"Our research is funded by many partners, including the Winton Programme for the Physics of Sustainability. CUEF increases this support through investment income, allowing us to continue our research into upscaling the ‘artificial leaf’. With further development, the project could have exciting commercial applications in the future, including fuel synthesis farms for green energy, or a sustainable alternative to petrol for the global shipping industry."

I’m particularly interested in the potential of the techniques of photoelectrocatalysis, photovoltaics and thermoelectrics as alternative and sustainable sources of energy. In Cambridge, I’ve met a wide network of people who work collaboratively, with a cross-disciplinary approach that allows us to push boundaries and draw inspiration from each other’s fields. My colleagues and I have been working on scalable “artificial leaf” devices, which can split water to produce hydrogen, or reduce carbon dioxide to value-added products like syngas under solar light illumination.

Our team uses modern fabrication techniques to coat thin-film metal oxides and materials known as perovskites onto flexible plastic and metal foils. The devices are covered with micrometre thin, water-repellent carbon-based layers that prevent moisture degradation. Initial tests show that these lightweight devices can float on open waters during operation, avoiding competition for land use with agriculture or housing.