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From "Light-Harvesting Processes" to "Clean Solar Fuel"

The University of Bayreuth and the University of Glasgow organize from March 10 - 14, 2009 an international and interdisciplinary conference "Light-Harvesting Processes LHP09" in the Educational Centre "Kloster Banz" (a Bavarian historic monastery close to Bamberg).

Prof. Dr. Richard Cogdell and Prof. Dr. Jürgen Köhler will discuss with more then 100 scientists from 18 nations the latest results of the main topic of the conference: Harvesting solar energy by natural and artificial photosystems.

The total annual global energy consumption is set at least to double from its current level by 2050. However, fossil fuel will start to run out by that time and in any case this would produce unacceptable amounts of CO2 enhancing global warming. From the fact that the amount of solar energy that hits the Earth every hour corresponds to the world's annual energy consumption, it becomes clear that solar driven energy production represents a sustainable long-term solution for that problem. Hence, harnessing solar energy for energy supply becomes a major challenge for the future.

At present the only conversion technology that might offer long-term, large-scale use is photovoltaics, i.e. a technology based on inorganic solar cells manufactured in a classical top-down approach. Its natural counterpart however, photosynthesis, is based on exactly the opposite strategy - bottom-up, i.e. starting from individual molecules and combining them to supramolecular structures by self-assembly. The success of this strategy is testified by the high flexibility and robustness of this process covering a variety of scales such as size (bacteria and trees), temperature (thermal springs and Siberian tundra), and environmental conditions (variations in pH). Moreover, nature has been able to solve successfully problems like adaptation to light conditions, self-reproduction, and self-repair.

In recent years, progress in structural biology has provided detailed insights into the structure-function relationships of the molecular machinery of photosynthesis. However, in order to learn from biology how to construct systems for artificial photosynthesis a better understanding of fundamental processes like exciton transfer, charge separation, or cyclic electron flow is crucial. This asks for collaborations between biologists, biochemists, physicists, crystallographers, and others to do the research. Moreover training of students to develop the expertise at the interface of such different disciplines to carry this long term but essential research forward is one of the most important tasks for the future.

The conference "Light-Harvesting Processes LHP09" is financially supported by the Volkswagen Foundation.

The process of light harvesting by antenna pigments lies at the heart of solar energy conversion. Aim of the conference is to bring together scientists from diverse fields to stimulate co-operations and to discuss options for the technological development of practical methods for the utilization of photosynthesis. The realization of the seriousness and rapidity of climate change accentuates the importance of this research for future energy supply.
More details and the Preliminary Scientific Program as PDF

Jürgen Abel | idw
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