Fuel of the future

New Rutgers research team takes lessons from natural photosynthesis to develop a bioinspired water oxidation catalyst: A renewable source of hydrogen fuel

Oil-excreting cyanobacterium Pseudanabaena uses phycoerythrin (cider-colored) as its major pigment and has exceptionally high PSII quantum efficiency Hydrogen remains the most promising fuel of the future owing to its carbon-free high-energy content and potential to be efficiently converted to either electrical or thermal energy. However, most of it on earth is locked up in a stable form we know as water. The development of inexpensive yet effective catalysts from cheap earth-abundant materials remains the greatest technical barrier limiting access to this renewable source of energy. The second challenge is mating this catalyst to a suitable photovoltaic device to enable solar energy to power the chemical transformations needed to extract the hydrogen and oxygen. To date, the most efficient system for using solar energy to split water is nature's photosynthetic enzyme called the Water-Oxidizing Complex (PSII-WOC). The catalytic core of this enzyme contains a CaMn4Ox cluster that is present in all known species of oxygenic phototrophs and apparently conserved since the emergence of this type of photosynthesis ca. 2.5 billion years ago. Professor Charles Dismukes, a new arrival with appointments in the Department of Chemistry & Chemical Biology and the Waksman Institute, has coauthored work presented at the American Chemical Society meeting in Washington D.C. which describes an abiotic synthetic mimic of the PSII-WOC system. The ACS paper was featured in a news account in the September 4th issue of Science Magazine.