UofT Solar Fuels Cluster

The U of T Solar Fuels Cluster is an interdisciplinary research team devoted to developing scalable, cost effective materials solutions towards using CO2 as a chemical feedstock for valuable products. Leveraging the expertise of some of Canada’s leading chemists, engineers, and material scientists, we hope to initiate a paradigm-shifting zero-emission CO2 economy.

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Graduate Scholarships and Post-doctoral Fellowships Available

The materials chemistry research group encourages top-rank post doctoral fellows, both national and international, to apply for the elite Banting and Vanier Canada Graduate Scholarships to support their work in our group.

The applications can be found on the Banting and Vanier websites.

We also encourage Marie-Curie and Alexander von Humbolt fellows as well as other top rank international graduate and post-graduate scholars holding research fellowships to apply for positions in our group.

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Nanoscale Greenhouse Enables CO2 Photocatalysis

Making solar chemicals and fuels enabled by photothermal CO2 catalysis is proving to be a promising pathway to counter climate change and the energy crisis. Advanced photothermal materials design can capture the merits of broad-band spectral absorption and high efficiency in CO2 photocatalysis. In a paper published in Nature Energy, researchers from the groups of Le He, Sochow University, and Geoffrey Ozin, University of Toronto, learned how to mimic the sunlight trapping effect of a conventional greenhouse at the nanoscale, to improve the photon conversion of methanation and reverse water gas shift reactions, with spectacular results. They synthesized a hybrid nickel nanocrystal sheathed by porous silica, the heat insulation and infrared shielding effects of which confine the photothermal energy and surface chemistry to the nickel core, while CO2-H2 reactants and CO-CH4 products enter and escape through the porous shell. In essence, a nanoscale greenhouse has been discovered which facilitates high efficiency CO2 supra-photothermal catalysis.

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Congratulations to Jiuli and coauthors on their publication in Advanced Science!

CO2 reduction to commodity chemicals and fuels holds great promise to alleviate the global warming. The realization typically requires earth-abundant catalysts and inexpensive driving force. In this paper, Jiuli and coauthors reported a Cu2+-substituted hydroxyapatite (Ca10(PO4)6(OH)2) mineral photocatalyst achieving peak CO2-to-CO performance of 215 μmol per gram catalyst per hour without CH4 byproduct. The activity originates from novel active sites of surface frustrated Lewis pairs—the proximal Lewis acidic Cu2+ and Lewis basic OH-, which selectively produce CO via a formate intermediate. See full story at Advanced Science.

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Nitrous oxide – Not a laughing matter

Nitrous oxide (N2O) is a colorless gas that can make people laugh or feel pain relief, as well as a long-term agent to warm the planet and deplete the ozone layer. Specifically, its warming impact is 300 times more potent than CO2. Life cycle analysis indicates that most of the atmospheric nitrous oxide (75%) originates from agricultural soil management due to excess usage of nitrogen fertilizer. To confront the N2O crisis via a cost-effective way, Prof. Ozin proposes a photocatalysis pathway involving HNO3 + 2H2O + hv –> NH4OH + 2O2 in the first place. See full story at Advanced Science News.

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Chinese Story of CO2

We are honoured and delighted to announce that The Story of CO2: Big Ideas for a Small Molecule has launched its Chinese version published by Science China Press. It is a new landmark right after the bronze medal in Indie Book Prize. The translation is carried out by Prof. Wei Sun and Prof. Le He, two experts in CO2RR and distinguished alumni of Ozin’s group.

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Bronze in the INDIES book award! Congratulations to Professor Geoffrey Ozin and Dr. Mireille Ghoussoub for their book, The Story of CO2.

We are delighted to announce that The Story of CO2: Big Ideas for a Small Molecule published by University of Toronto Press in Nov., 2020 has won the bronze medal in the Foreword INDIES awards in the category of Ecology and Environment! See foreword reviews for details.

About the book: The climate crisis requires that we drastically reduce carbon dioxide emissions across all sectors of society. The Story of CO2 contributes to this vital conversation by highlighting the cutting-edge science and emerging technologies – a number of which are already commercially available – that can transform carbon dioxide into a myriad of products such as feedstock chemicals, polymers, pharmaceuticals, and fuels. This approach allows us to reconsider CO2 as a resource, and to add “carbon capture and use” to our other tools in the fight against catastrophic climate change. See also an introduction and story by the Faculty of Science and Art, UofT, the Story of CO2 describes a groundbreaking solution to the climate crisis.

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What do carbon capture and beer bubbles have in common?

A glass of cold beer with foamy head and sweet fizz guarantees a pleasant experience in the summer. As you may have realized that the major gas component in the bubble is the same one warming our planet, it would be natural to ask how many CO2 bubbles are released during our toast and how much beer bubbles contribute to the global CO2 footprint. Answers to these questions require an understanding of thermodynamics and kinetics of bubble nucleation and growth, provided by a recent report, and a grain-to-glass life-cycle-analysis. See full story at Advanced Science News.

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Sustainable Diesel Fuel

There is a worldwide effort to achieve the IPCC 1.5-degree global warming target by the end of the 21st century. To this end, the major power generation, industrial, and transportation sectors of our economies are undergoing a transformational decarbonization process enabled by renewable energy, electrification, and carbon capture, storage, and utilization.

It is anticipated that half of the primary global energy usage will be supplied through renewable sources, and electrification will reduce more than 50% of carbon emissions in the industrial and transportation sectors by 2050. However, it is challenging for diesel powered marine, trucking, and aviation forms of transportation, to embrace the “renewable + electrification” scenario because of their energy intensity for long distance travel devoid of midway charging.

The UofT solar fuels group and its spin-off Solistra, www.solistra.ca, have been working for more than a decade on novel photocatalysts for converting CO2 to sustainable methanol, hydrogen, carbon monoxide, methane, olefins, ammonia, and urea, powered only by sunlight. Recently they have turned their attention to green dimethyl ether, a clean replacement for diesel fuel.

The motivation for our work received inspiration from the interest of Ford in renewable, high energy-density, drop-in fuels, dimethyl ether DME and poly-oxymethylene ether OME. These green replacements for brown diesel can be synthesized from renewable methanol, which can be produced from biomass, municipal solid waste, and waste plastics via gasification and syngas conversion utilizing recycled CO2. With the invention of several outstanding solar methanol catalysts, the UofT solar fuels group has begun to focus some of its efforts on solar DME and OME.

To place our work in perspective, Ford leads a North American consortium that focuses its research and development program on renewable, high energy-density fuels for diesel engines. Global renewable energy sectors, academia and research institutions in North America and Europe are developing drop-in DME automotive fuels produced from various renewable feedstocks. We are excited that the UofT solar fuels group has been and will continue to contribute to this effort by exploring the direct-solar-powered conversion of CO2 to methanol, DME, and OME.

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Hidden gems in materials discovery: Healing our climate with barite

The most immediate feeling of the effect of global warming on people will likely be the unbearable long hot days of summer. The Joule-Thompson compression-expansion based air conditioner will be desperately needed in this situation. However, their use intensifies the warming effect especially in urban areas due to greenhouse gas coolants, energy consumption, CO2 emissions and urban heat island effect. Recently, the common mineral Barite, barium sulphate, demonstrated passive radiative cooling, providing an environmental temperature reduction of 4-10 °C, a promising materials technology for confronting the urban warming effect of climate change, an eco-friendly cooling alternative to air conditioners, now that’s really cool! See full story at Advanced Science News.

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Congratulations Alex Tavasoli on being selected as a Clean50 Award Winner

Alex Tavasoli, graduate student in the solar fuels group and CEO of Solistra , is selected as the Clean50 Individual award winner and one of the Clean50 Emerging Leaders, based on her pioneering accomplishment of making green hydrogen H2 from the two most potent greenhouse gases methane CH4 and carbon dioxide CO2 powered by solar energy at an estimated cost 25% that of H2 from electrically powered electrolysis of H2O.

Background: Canada’s Clean50 annually offers recognition to Canada’s leaders in sustainability for their contributions over the prior two years, which are selected from 16 diverse categories that transcend numerous industries, academia, different levels of government, thought leaders and advocates, and are based on accomplishments delivered over the prior two years.

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A natural way of turning off the carbon dioxide tap, California style

It is necessary for us to build a net carbon-neutral or even carbon-negative society to counter global warming and related energy security problems. Many possible solutions have been proposed in this regard, however when the goal could be reached via any strategy is not clear yet. Recently, a new report outlined in quantitative detail the range of options, trade-offs, and costs to guide future policies in achieving carbon neutrality by 2045 for California. Through this report we might get a clearer outlook of how a cost-effective, feasible pathway could be built via existing techniques such as CO2 capture and biomass utilization, and what are the remaining challenges in the future. See full story at Advanced Science News.

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