META-CAT: A light-driven biorefinery using metacatalysts

Project no: ERC CZ (LL1903)
Principal investigator: Alberto Naldoni, Ph.D.
Implementation period: 2019-2021;
Funding: 590 000 EUR

The development of market-competitive processes to produce fuels from sunlight and water/carbon dioxide is essential for the transition to a sustainable energy economy. However, progress in synthesis of solar fuels has been hampered by materials’ limitations and requires the development of a new class of nanocatalysts with enhanced properties. META-CAT aims to introduce a new class of catalysts with tunable efficiency and tailored selectivity, metacatalysts, whose properties can be controlled and optimized in situ during chemical reactions, overcoming intrinsic limitations of materials. We will synthesize metacatalysts with engineered optical and thermal properties comprising plasmonic metamaterials and nanocrystalline catalysts assembled with nanometre precision in a single integrated system. Imagine metal nanocrystals assembled inside a plasmonic nanocavity that through light concentration, hot carrier generation or local heating enable tunable interactions with substrates or metal nanocrystals, thereby controlling catalytic activity of metacatalyst. We will realize engineered metacatalysts with tunable efficiency for H2 production from biomass photoreforming and able to stir selectivity towards one product or the other during CO2 electroreduction. We will use quantum chemical calculations to identify rate-determining steps of these reactions and unravel how they are perturbed by each plasmonic effect, thus allowing us to draw structure-activity relationships that will serve as guidelines for designer metacatalysts with state of the art efficiency. Metacatalysts will enable ultra-compact, portable devices for decentralized synthesis of fuels in light-driven biorefineries, where efficiency and selectivity could be triggered on demand.