The wealth created in the World over the last century is based on easy access to inexpensive fossil fuels. This era is coming to an end. The resources are limited and the demand from
everywhere in the world is growing rapidly. At the same time, it is becoming increasingly clear that the emission of CO2 that follows the use of fossil fuels is threatening the climate of the Earth. Arguably this makes the development of sustainable energy solutions the most important scientific and technical challenge of our time. It is the aim of the present proposal to contribute to the solution of these problems in selected areas. We will address the underlying scientific questions and use the insight gained to point to solutions to some of the technical problems.
Any sustainable energy system must rely on the energy influx from the sun. The energy from the sun powers wind and waves, which can be used to produce electricity. Sunlight can also be used directly to produce electricity in photovoltaic cells. The electrical power can be converted into fuels by electrocatalytic processes. Alternatively, the absorption of light and the electrochemical processes can be integrated into photo-electrocatalytic devices, which produce fuels directly from sunlight. Finally, the chemical energy created during photosynthesis and stored in biomass can be used to produce electrical power or fuels. An essential ingredient in all of these technologies is the ability to store the energy chemically as a fuel. This is needed in order to provide energy for the transportation sector and in decentralized applications, and, in particular, as storage for energy sources with large temporal variations.
Transformation of the energy into a chemical form can ensure that the energy is available at the time when it is needed. The key to provide an efficient transformation of energy to a chemical form or from one chemical form into another is the availability of catalysts. In essentially all possible sustainable energy technologies, the lack of efficient and economically viable catalysts is a primary factor limiting their use.
We propose to create a research environment to foster the discovery of new solid catalysts and processes for energy conversion for a spectrum of energy sources. The central idea is to develop a science-based rational design strategy for new catalysts. We wish to establish an understanding of the mechanism by which solid surfaces act as catalysts for energy conversion processes. In particular, we will identify the important factors of the catalyst material determining the catalytic activity and selectivity and we will synthesize and investigate new, interesting classes of materials. In addition, we wish to exploit this insight to devise rational catalyst design strategies for the discovery of new catalysts.
Our approach is to unite the unique set of competences at DTU in heterogeneous catalysis research into a project structure where we can exploit the synergy between them. Four major challenges are chosen as the focal points of the proposed initiative. They are chosen to cover aspects of a broad range of sustainable energy technologies. We propose to study
- Electrocatalysts to convert CO2 into liquid fuels such as methanol.
- Electrocatalysts to convert N2 from the atmosphere into NH3 as energy carrier.
- Photocatalysts for direct production of fuels from sunlight.
- Catalysts for the conversion of various degradation products from biomass into liquid fuels that could replace gasoline and diesel.
Read more about CASE project managers, researchers and external collaborations.
Director Ib Chorkendorff, DTU Physics, tel. +45 4525 3170; mail:
Director Jens Kehlet Nørskov, SLAC National Accelerator Laboratory, Stanford University, mail:
Communiator Anne Hansen, DTU Physics, tel. +45 45 25 31 59; mail: