NSF Fellow Amanda Grennell: Turning sunlight into fuel

September 17, 2013

Harvesting sunlight for energy has become commonplace. Solar panels on rooftops across the globe can convert the sun’s rays into electricity. But finding a way to convert solar energy directly into a fuel that can be used to power cars, planes and trains has been more elusive.

Grennell is working to crack the sun-to-fuel code using nano-scale materials that can absorb the sun’s energy and then transfer that energy to a catalyst that, in turn, makes the fuel.

“The interesting part about our materials—these nanocrystals—is that changing the size of the nanocrystal changes their properties,” Grennell said. “That gives you a lot of tunability in the system.”

Grennell has already created nanocrystals made from more than one type of material, which allows her to alter and control their properties. She also has shown that she can pair these nanocrystals with a biological enzyme, creating a system that can produce a measurable amount of hydrogen gas, which can be used as a fuel.

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