Axalta Distinguished Lecture Series Speaker Discusses Artificial Photosynthesis

Professor Daniel G. Nocera, the Patterson Rockwood Professor of Energy at Harvard University, was the honored speaker at this year’s Axalta Distinguished Lecture Series. Axalta Coating Systems, a supplier of liquid and powder coatings, sponsored the event which was hosted by the Department of Chemistry at the University of Pennsylvania last week. Professor Nocera’s lecture titled, “A Complete Artificial Photosynthesis,” explained his research that led to the development of an artificial device that converts water and carbon dioxide into biomass and liquid fuels using sunlight.

One of the challenges with using solar energy as a source of electricity is the need for a cost effective method to store the sun’s energy. One example of energy storage is photosynthesis, the process whereby plants and other organisms use sunlight to convert water and carbon dioxide into biomass that can be used later, as needed, as a source of fuel. Professor Nocera has mimicked key aspects of this process by creating an artificial leaf.

“We first invented an artificial leaf that can split water into hydrogen and oxygen using sunlight,” says Professor Nocera. “We then used a bio-engineered bacterium to convert carbon dioxide along with the hydrogen produced from the artificial leaf into biomass and liquid fuels. The hybrid microbial and artificial leaf operate at solar-to-biomass (10.7 percent) and solar-to-fuels (6.2 percent) yields, exceeding the 1 percent yield of natural photosynthesis,” states Professor Nocera.

“At Axalta, we are committed to delivering innovative coatings solutions that protect our customers’ products,” says Dr. Barry Snyder, Axalta senior vice president and chief technology officer. “Our sustainable coating systems benefit stakeholders, including our customers and the communities in which we operate. Professor Nocera’s research has the potential to have an impact by offering a sustainable source of energy. The translation of fundamental research to practical application, as embodied in Professor Nocera’s research, is an element of the collaboration between Axalta and the Department of Chemistry at the University of Pennsylvania.”

“The Axalta Distinguished Lecture Series provides opportunities for our students and faculty members to interact with scholars in the world,” says Gary A. Molander, department chair and Hirschmann-Makineni Professor of Chemistry at the University of Pennsylvania. “This year, we are delighted to have Professor Nocera share his innovations with us. Professor Nocera’s work exemplifies the opportunities that exist to use fundamental science to create technologies that have broad societal benefits. We look forward to continued collaboration with Axalta in the years ahead.”

Past speakers have included world renowned scientists, including Nobel Prize laureates William Moerner (Chemistry 2014), Robert Grubbs (Chemistry 2005), Ahmed Zewail (Chemistry 1999), Steven Chu (Physics 1997), Harold Kroto (Chemistry 1996), Richard Smalley (Chemistry 1996), George Olah (Chemistry 1994), P.G. de Gennes (Physics 1991), Elias Corey (Chemistry 1990), Thomas Cech (Chemistry 1989), Donald Cram (Chemistry 1987), Jean-Marie Lehn (Chemistry 1987), John Polanyi (Chemistry 1986), Yuan Lee (Chemistry 1986), Roald Hoffmann (Chemistry 1981), and Herbert Brown (Chemistry 1979).

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