On October 15th, I had the opportunity to attend the UNC Solar Energy Research Center’s (SERC) Annual Symposium. The speaker line up was fantastic. Balancing seasoned veterans like Graham Fleming (Berkeley) with the next generation of solar fuels super stars like Alex Miller (UNC) and Jillian Dempsey (UNC).

The audience, of over 200, was treated to a day and a half of research presentations ranging from engineering plants to become more efficient in high-light intensity scenarios to modeling catalysts for hydrogen evolution and CO2 reduction. Staying true to the symposium theme of “Dye-sensitized Solar Fuels Devices”, aspects of tandem dye-sensitized systems for CO2 reduction dominated the presentations by the UNC Energy Frontier Research Center (UNC EFRC) participants. Nearly all UNC EFRC presentations worked from the same conceptual graphic (see below). The use of the graphic in each presentation instilled a sense of cohesion and teamwork, allowed each speaker to build on the previously presented work.

Courtesy of the UNC Energy Frontier Research Center

Courtesy of the UNC Energy Frontier Research Center – an Energy Frontier Research Center funded by the Department of Energy: Basic Energy Sciences Division

From molecular approaches to material developments, light capture played a major role in all presentations. Emphasizing the complications intrinsic in relying on sunlight to drive the catalytic processes. The fundamental problems associated with achieving in-situ (or one pot) solar fuel production were highlighted again and again; however, each approach to solving this problem was encouraging and inspiring.

The program easily provided something for everyone. TiO2-based systems for the photoanode advocates, glimpses into photocathode development, computational methods, molecular advances and materials developments for the OPV and sensitizer communities, as well as a trip through biological processes to remind us where we are starting with all this.

A brief poster session on Thursday night was too short to visit all the of great work presented by the various researchers; however, it was refreshing to see the work of the “front lines” displayed proudly around the Atrium of the Friday Center. And being able to speak with the researchers directly made it very rewarding.

The 6th Annual UNC SERC Symposium was organized and executed very well. I look forward to next year and fully intend on returning. 

Check out the SERC center website, where you can learn more about this year’s event and what UNC SERC is all about.