Universiteit Leiden

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Grant for development of artificial green fuels

Researchers at Leiden University have been awarded a €4 million EU grant to develop climate-neutral fuels. With this money they will expand the broad research community that focuses on green energy. If we work together, we can make the rapid progress that is needed, says Prof. Huub de Groot, Professor of Biophysical organic chemistry at Leiden University.

The use of fossil fuels contributes to global warming and its reserves will run out one day. The European SUNER-C consortium is therefore looking for sustainable and more environmentally friendly alternatives, for example by imitating plants using artificial photosynthesis. Photosynthesis is the process by which plants extract CO2 from the air to produce glucose. Artificial photosynthesis can also produce other fuels.

'The next ten years are crucial'

Quick steps towards a green future are needed. ‘The IPCC has stated that the world has to be CO2 neutral by 2065 to prevent the largest climate disasters’, says De Groot. ‘We know that energy transitions take time. From the moment a technology becomes available, it takes about 30 years before the transition to that technology is completed. So the technologies should be available around 2030 at the latest. The next ten years are crucial,' says De Groot. ‘Fortunately, there are more and more enthusiastic scientists working on this.’

What will our energy supplies look like in the future?

It is still impossible to predict what our energy supplies will look like in the future. ‘A lot is possible from a technical perspective, but ultimately it depends largely on what people want.’ The SUNER-C consortium is investigating various methods of producing alternative fuels, such as making the fuel methanol with the help of sunlight on the roofs of houses. ‘You can now easily put solar panels on roofs to make electricity but storing large amounts of electricity for long periods of time is difficult.’

Leiden University mainly focuses on fundamental questions, such as making the conversion of basic substances like water and CO2 into methanol more efficient. ‘We can already do that, but it is not very efficient yet. Ultimately, we want to be able to apply this artificial photosynthesis as efficiently as nature does.’

On 8 June, Chengyu Liu received his PhD from Leiden University for his research on artificial photosynthesis, which brings its application one step closer.

The consortium receives a grant of 4 million euros for the SUNER-C project within the Horizon funding programme. Within this unique consortium, thirteen academic partners, thirteen companies, four network organisations and one non-governmental organisation are linked together.

Leiden University is one of the academic partners of the consortium, which is coordinated by Utrecht University. ´We want all parties to work even more closely together, so that we can work as a well-oiled machine towards the future´, says Huub de Groot. ´Synergy in this public-private partnership will enable us to take much faster steps.´

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