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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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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DIY Eco-Friendly Fertilizer

It is well-documented that around 0.00470757486 kg active nitrogen should be treated into per square meter soils to nourish the farms and gardens. Meanwhile do you know that each bolt of lightning in a thunderstorm converts about 7 kg of nitrogen into active nitrates? For sure human beings cannot rely on lightning to ease hunger but we can expect a solar powered lightning-mimic technique—the plasma, where a flow of gaseous N2 and O2 are electrically excited causing them to react to produce mainly NO in an arc reactor. This is not scientific fiction but is being reduced to practice by a company named VitalFluid. See full story at Advanced Science News.

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Congratulations to Pavani, Geoff, Wei, and co-authors on their publication in Science Advances!

Oil spill happens occasionally, and its cleanup is usually challenging especially at low temperatures. Paraffin waxes in crude oil would crystallise to form a surface layer and block the liquid oil droplet inside, which decreases the capability of advanced oil spill cleanup measures, such as absorption by sponges. In this paper, Pavani, Wei and coauthors effectively resolved this challenge by coating a polyester polyurethane sponge with nanoscale silicon capped with paraffin-like, octadecyl ligands, achieving up to 99% absorption of oil from water at low temperatures. See full story at Science Advances.

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Congratulations to Joel and co-authors on their publication in Nature Communications!

Photoelectrons could initiate excited-state chemistry to enable low-temperature reactions which are kinetically prohibited at ground state. Triggering more photoelectrons is considered as the key to implement solar advantage for facile catalysis, which is usually realized via concentrating photo-intensity. However, this method suffers from the photo-saturation effect when the light intensity reaches a threshold. In this paper, Joel and co-authors demonstrate a counter-intuitive waveguide strategy to surmount the photo saturation of indium oxide catalyst by distributing, instead of concentrating, the light intensity. See full story at Nature Communications.

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Congratulations to Truong and co-authors on their publication in Nano Letters!

In this paper, Truong and coauthors developed a ternary heterostructured TiN@TiO2@In2O3−x(OH)y photocatalyst to enable broadband light absorption, effective photothermal heating and engineered charge carrier transfer. This design enables highly efficient CO2 reduction to CO with the requirement of minimum amount of expensive component In2O3−x(OH)y. See full story at Nano Letters.

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Congratulations to Alex Tavasoli and coauthors on their publication in EES!

Transforming the greenhouse gas into fuels via sunlight has attracted great interests recently, but where are we and where should we go for a solar fuel refinery? To answer this question, Alex, who is the Co-founder and CEO of the solar fuel spinoff Solistra, analyzes the remaining technical challenges associated with the commercial application for dry reforming with coauthors. It is discovered that many photocatalysts reported in literatures have activity merits high enough for potential implementations while major challenge lies in chemical engineering such as the design of photoreactor. See full story at EES.

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