The road towards commercial artificial photosynthesis has been a bumpy one. Stories like the so-called “artificial leaf” generated a lot of hype in 2011, but the company initially behind the technology—Sun Catalytix—soon abandoned their commercial efforts in 2012 when it became clear the economics simply did not add up.
While other companies that launched around this time, Hypersolar for example, have continued to try and make their technology work commercially, the scientific community seemingly has had far better luck advancing the fundamental science of photoelectrochemical reduction.
This scientific effort largely has been organized in the United States under the Department of Energy’s Joint Center for Artificial Photosynthesis (JCAP). IEEE Spectrum had the opportunity to sit down with scientists at the northern branch of JCAP located at Berkeley National Laboratory. (The southern arm is at the California Institute of Technology in Pasadena.) Our discussion covered where the technology is at this point, what’s next, and how nanomaterials are helping to shape its development.