Universiteit Leiden

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FRESH Lecture: Water Splitting Catalys - From Natural to Artificial Photosynthesis

Thursday 23 May 2019
Gorlaeus Building
Einsteinweg 55
2333 CC Leiden


Nature uses solar light and water to drive chemical reactions in biological systems, and  understanding the mechanism of water splitting by the Mn4CaO5 cluster in oxygen envolving complex (OEC) of Photosystem II is essential for the design and synthesis of highly efficient man-made catalysts for artificial photosynthesis. The water oxidation mechanisms in OEC and synthetic molecular water oxidation catalysts such as Ru(bda) series will be discussed during this lecture. Assembly of molecular water oxidation catalysts on the surfaces of nano-materials for (photo)electrochemical driven water splitting will be presented. A paired electrosynthesis cell for the respective oxygenation and hydrogenation of organic compounds with water as both the oxygen and hydrogen source will be demonstrated as well during this lecture. For example, conversions efficiencies and selectivities of ≥99% were achieved during the oxygenation of 5-hydroxymethylfurfural (HMF) to 2,5-furandicarboxylic acid (FDCA) and the simultaneous hydrogenation of p-nitrophenol to p-aminophenol. This paired electrosynthesis cell has also been coupled to a solar cell as a stand-alone reactor in response to sunlight, realizing a green chemical process.


  1. P. Zhang et al, Angew. Chem. Int. Ed. 2019, doi.org/10.1002/anie.201903936
  2. B. Zhang et al, J. Am. Chem. Soc. 2019, 141, 5565-5580.
  3. P. Zhang et al, Nature Commun. 2018, 9, 381.
  4. B. Zhang et al, iScience 2018, 4, 144-152.
  5. B. Zhang et al, Dalton Trans 2018, 47, 14381-14387


Prof. Licheng Sun received his PhD degree in 1990 from Dalian University of Technology (DUT), and went to Germany as a postdoc at Max-Planck-Institut für Strahlenchemie with Dr. Helmut Görner (1992-1993), and then as an Alexander von Humboldt postdoc at Freie Universität Berlin (1993-1995) with Prof. Dr. Harry Kurreck. He moved to KTH Royal Institute of Technology, Stockholm in 1995 as a postdoc with Prof. Björn Åkermark, became assistant professor in 1997 at KTH, associate professor in 1999 at Stockholm University and full professor in 2004 at KTH. He is presently also a distinguished professor at DUT, and director of DUT-KTH Joint Education and Research Center on Molecular Devices.

His research interests cover artificial photosynthesis, including dye sensitized solar cells, perovskite solar cells, bio-inspired catalysts for water oxidation and hydrogen generation, nano-materials and photoelectrochemical cells for water splitting and CO2 reduction. In particular, Prof. Sun has made outstanding contribution to the design and synthesis of molecular catalysts for water oxidation with the catalytic efficiency comparable to the OEC (oxygen evolution complex) in Photosystem II, and the deep insight studies on the reaction mechanisms of O-O bond formation.

Prof. Sun has published more than 500 peer reviewed papers in well-known international scientific journals including Science, Nature Chemistry, Nature Communications, Advanced Materials, Angew. Chem. Int. Ed., J. Am. Chem. Soc. and Energy Environmental Sci., with total number of citations >30 000, and H-index of 87 (Web of Science). He has given over 100 invited lectures including more than 30 plenary/keynote lectures in international conferences. He serves as editorial board chairman of ChemSusChem, associate editor of J. Energy Chemistry. He is the recipient of Ulla och Stig Holmquist Prize in Organic Chemistry 2013, Arrhenius Medal 2014, Smart Energy Technology Award 2016 from International Association of Advanced Materials, and Wallmark Prize 2016 from the Royal Swedish Academy of Sciences, elected as Member (No. 1775) of the Royal Swedish Academy of Engineering Sciences (IVA) 2017, Thomson Reuters Highly Cited Researcher 2014, 2017 and 2018, and listed on The World's Most Influential Scientific Minds. Since January 2018, he is the national distinguished professor of the Swedish Research Council.

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