Bio-inspired
Solar Energy

Bio-Inspired Solar Energy Banner

About this program

How can we learn from nature to harvest energy from the sun?

With energy demand set to double by 2050, there is an urgent need for clean, renewable sources such as solar power. The Bio-inspired Solar Energy program looks to photosynthetic organisms for inspiration on how to create solar energy technology. Fellows tackle photon capture and conversion to electrical energy; and fuel catalysis and storage.

Program at a glance

Founded in
2014
Members
22
Supporters
  • The Arthur J.E. Child Foundation
  • Charles Hantho
  • Chisholm Thomson Family Foundation
  • Jerry and Geraldine Heffernan
  • Ivey Foundation
  • Max Bell Foundation
  • Metcalf Foundation
Partners
  • Fonds de recherche du Québec - Nature et technologies (FRQNT)

Disciplines
Nanotechnology, including nanomaterials; physical and inorganic chemistry; polymer science; biophysics; chemical, molecular and quantum physics; optics; environmental engineering

Program details

CIFAR’s program brings together an international team with backgrounds in nanotechnology, chemistry, biology, biological engineering, materials synthesis and more. Together they are able to examine the problem from multiple perspectives, and create a new framework for thinking about the problem that spans multiple disciplines.

Today 85 per cent of human energy demands are met by burning fossil fuels. This releases CO2 into the atmosphere and contributes to global warming. Population growth and increased standards of living will double our energy demand from 15 terawatts to 30 terawatts by 2050. Solar energy technology has made great strides. But conventional silicon solar cells are hitting the limits of their efficiency and affordability, and there are still no good solutions for storing solar energy. Technological breakthroughs will be needed to meet increasing demand.

sunflower

Biological organisms embody powerful lessons for energy conversion. Plants shuttle absorbed solar energy with almost no loss from light-absorbing antennae to biochemical reaction centres, and convert carbon dioxide into carbon-based fuels, all with an efficiency which artificial carbon-bond synthesis cannot yet approach. They do all of this while propagating and repairing themselves.

A major goal of the program is to find better ways to harvest the energy from photons. Chlorophyll does this job in photosynthetic organisms, and has optimized the process in a number of ways. For instance, it organizes itself into arrays of antennas that specialize in capturing the energy from a photon and shuttling it to a reaction centre, where the energy is used to raise an electron to a high energy state. Lessons from these antenna arrays could make artificial solar capture much more efficient.

Another major effort is in catalysis and fuel storage. Plants use solar energy to convert carbon dioxide to fuel in the form of sugars with incredible efficiency. CIFAR fellows would like to bring the same efficiency to converting solar to chemical energy, which could be stored, and later converted to electrical energy.

In all of these areas, program fellows will work with industry partners to help define the questions that need to be answered, and also to help create strategies for taking new technologies to market.

Contact the program’s senior director, Pamela Kanellis

Program fellows & advisors

Program Director

BSE_EdwardSargent
Edward Sargent
Heffernan Director

Edward Sargent’s research investigates the use of colloidal quantum dots to improve device performance and lower manufacturing costs.

 

Fellows

AlanAspuruGuzik

Alán Aspuru-Guzik

  • Senior Fellow
  • Bio-inspired Solar Energy
  • University of Toronto
  • Canada
Bio Outline

Aleksandra Vojvodic

  • Fellow
  • Bio-inspired Solar Energy
  • University of Pennsylvania
  • United States
CatherineDrennan

Catherine L. Drennan

  • Senior Fellow
  • Bio-inspired Solar Energy
  • Howard Hughes Medical Institute
  • Massachusetts Institute of Technology
  • United States
Bio Outline

Christopher J. Chang

  • Senior Fellow
  • Bio-inspired Solar Energy
  • University of California Berkeley
  • United States
BSE_CurtisBerlinguette

Curtis P. Berlinguette

  • Senior Fellow
  • Bio-inspired Solar Energy
  • University of British Columbia
  • Canada
BSE_GabrielaSchlauCohen

Gabriela Schlau-Cohen

  • Fellow
  • Bio-inspired Solar Energy
  • Massachusetts Institute of Technology
  • United States
BSE_GregoryScholes

Gregory Scholes

  • Senior Fellow
  • Bio-inspired Solar Energy
  • Princeton University
  • United States
Bio Outline

Karl Leo

  • Senior Fellow
  • Bio-inspired Solar Energy
  • TU Dresden
  • Germany
BSE_MarioLeclerc

Mario Leclerc

  • Senior Fellow
  • Bio-inspired Solar Energy
  • Université Laval
  • Canada
BSE_PeidongYang

Peidong Yang

  • Senior Fellow
  • Bio-inspired Solar Energy
  • University of California Berkeley
  • United States
BSE_RienkVanGrondelle

Rienk van Grondelle

  • Senior Fellow
  • Bio-inspired Solar Energy
  • VU University
  • The Netherlands
BSE_SharonHammes-schiffer

Sharon Hammes-Schiffer

  • Senior Fellow
  • Bio-inspired Solar Energy
  • Yale University
  • United States
BSE_ThomasMallouk

Thomas Mallouk

  • Senior Fellow
  • Bio-inspired Solar Energy
  • Pennsylvania State University
  • United States

Advisors

Bio Outline

Daniel G. Nocera

  • Advisor
  • Bio-inspired Solar Energy
  • Harvard University
  • United States
Fraser Armstrong

Fraser Armstrong

  • Advisor
  • Bio-inspired Solar Energy
  • Oxford University
  • United Kingdom

Richard Cogdell

  • Advisory Committee Chair
  • Bio-inspired Solar Energy
  • Glasgow University
  • United Kingdom
Bio Outline

Shaffiq Jaffer

  • Advisor
  • Bio-inspired Solar Energy
  • Total American Services
  • United States
BSE_VivianYam

Vivian Wing-Wah Yam

  • Advisor
  • Bio-inspired Solar Energy
  • University of Hong Kong
  • Hong Kong

CIFAR Azrieli Global Scholars

BSE_JeffreyWarren

Jeffrey J. Warren

  • CIFAR Azrieli Global Scholars
  • Bio-inspired Solar Energy
  • Simon Fraser University
  • Canada
Jenny Yang

Jenny Yang

  • CIFAR Azrieli Global Scholar
  • Bio-inspired Solar Energy
  • University of California Irvine
  • United States
BSE_NathanielGabor

Nathaniel Gabor

  • CIFAR Azrieli Global Scholars
  • Bio-inspired Solar Energy
  • University of California Riverside
  • United States
Prineha Narang

Prineha Narang

  • CIFAR Azrieli Global Scholar
  • Bio-inspired Solar Energy
  • Harvard University
  • United States
Yogi Surendranath

Yogesh Surendranath

  • CIFAR Azrieli Global Scholars
  • Bio-inspired Solar Energy
  • Massachusetts Institute of Technology
  • United States