UL professor awarded €1.5m for solar energy research

Michael Scanlon, UL
Michael Scanlon, UL

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7 July 2017 | 0

University of Limerick professor Dr Micheal Scanlon has been named as one of three recipients of the 2017 €1.5 million European Research Council (ERC) Starting Grant.

Dr Scanlon’s research revolves around an experimental approach that seeks to imitate photosynthesis in the leaves of plants, with the end goal of generating energy for clean electricity and solar fuels.

The use of inorganic solid materials for solar photovoltaic (PV) devices can be expensive and toxic to the environment. Dr Scanlon’s approach uses a liquid-to-liquid solar energy conversion, rather than using solid materials. The scaling up process is far easier when using liquids, than when using solid material and liquids such as water or oils carry less toxicity in them.

This kind of advancement of solar PV technology is critical to the advancement of environmental sustainability and continued economic growth, as the average energy consumption is projected to double by 2050, and triple by 2100.

“Liquid-to-liquid interfaces are found everywhere in nature, including in the membranes of cells in plant leaves which are photosynthetic,” said Dr. Scanlon. “There are light harvesting molecules called chlorophyll in these membranes. The liquid-to-liquid interfaces I use have the fantastic ability to trap and bring molecules together, especially molecules that are similar to chlorophyll. By coating these interfaces in all sorts of light harvesting molecules I can create an artificial photosynthetic membrane capable of producing energy.”

A native of Templeglantine in West Limerick, Dr Scanlon is a Lecturer in the Dept of Chemical Sciences at UL where he is establishing a research group in the Bernal Institute.

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