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Keywords:

  • carbon dioxide;
  • heterogeneous catalysis;
  • photocatalysis;
  • solar fuels;
  • water splitting

Abstract

This article reviews, first, the prospects, practices and principles of generating solar fuels. It does so with an analysis of recent progress in the light-driven emission of H2 (and other fuels) as well as O2 from water. To place this challenge in perspective, some current practices entailing the use of well-proven solid catalysts developed for fossil-based feedstocks, are described. The massive differences between proven methods of generating fuel and chemicals from non-renewable and from solar radiation are emphasized with the aid of numerous quantitative examples. Whilst it is acknowledged that a key action in reducing the liberation of greenhouse gases (GHG) is to tackle the challenge of decreasing their evolution in power generation and in the production of steel, aluminium and other bulk commodities (metals, alloys, concrete and ceramics), nevertheless much can be done to diminish the emission of CO2 (and to use it as feedstock) through the agency of new, designed solid catalysts and microalgae. Solar-thermal converters are also attractive alternatives, even though they are more likely to be used centrally rather than in small modular units like ‘artificial leaves,’ some of which are promising for the purposes of generating energy (and perhaps fuel) in a delocalized, modular manner.