Extraordinary problems facing society require extraordinary measures for achieving solutions. This is especially true of the greenhouse-gas-induced climate change facing the world today. We decided to rise to this challenge with an interdisciplinary team of chemists and engineers. Our thesis is that chemistry created the greenhouse gas effect by combusting legacy fossil fuels, and chemistry can reverse the effect by converting CO2 into synthetic fuels, in a closed-carbon-cycle. To actualize this utopian idea of a green and sustainable future, one needs to discover nanostructured materials that can accomplish this conversion efficiently, safely, and economically on a large scale.
At the heart of this challenge lies the exceptionally high thermodynamic and kinetic stability of CO2. In the case of solar fuels, this requires the discovery of highly active photocatalysts and the development of high performance photoreactors. To meaningfully impact climate change, targeted catalysts must be able to make synthetic fuels from CO2 at industrially practical scales and rates of conversion, while maintaining long-term performance stability. In addition, the catalyst must comprise earth-abundant, low-cost, non-toxic elements, to ensure economically viable and environmentally sound CO2 refineries. This is no easy challenge and the climate change clock is ticking.