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Institute of Organic Chemistry

Using carbon dioxide for fuels


The "Solar Technologies go Hybrid" research program continues to receive funding of 1.7 million euros from the State of Bavaria. Now the aim is to produce synthetic fuels from carbon dioxide.

Generating hydrogen and using carbon dioxide for fuels: These are goals of the Solar Technologies go Hybrid research alliance. (Image: SolTech research network)
Generating hydrogen and using carbon dioxide for fuels: These are goals of the Solar Technologies go Hybrid research alliance. (Image: SolTech research network)

Finding innovative ways to generate electric power and non-fossil fuels from solar energy: with this objective, the Bavarian Ministry of Science established the "Solar Technologies Go Hybrid" (SolTech) research program in 2012. Since then, five KeyLabs at the universities of Bayreuth, Erlangen-Nuremberg, Munich (LMU and TU) and Würzburg have received financial support.

Now the ministry has approved the sum of 1.7 million euros for 2023 for the program, which will continue until 2026.

"Investing in progress is the best climate protection strategy - SolTech is a prime example of this: with the concentrated scientific excellence of our universities, options are being researched here to generate electricity and hydrogen from solar energy. We are supporting this with conviction again this year with around 1.7 million euros and a total of more than 70 million euros since 2012," said Science Minister Markus Blume in a press release from the ministry.

So far, he said, the program has been exceptionally successful. In its environment, a Cluster of Excellence, three Collaborative Research Centers of the German Research Foundation (DFG) and several ERC grants at the European Research Council have been acquired.

Developing innovations for the energy transition

In 2023, the leadership of the SolTech alliance rotated to the Würzburg KeyLab, which is located at the Center for Nanosystems Chemistry under Chemistry Professor Frank Würthner.

The mission of the Center for Nanosystems Chemistry is to develop scientific innovations for the energy transition. Here, researchers within SolTech dedicated themselves to the focal points "Conversion of solar energy into electricity" and "Conversion of solar energy to photocatalytic water splitting" in the first two funding periods.

Among other things, the Würzburg team presented an advance on sunlight-driven water splitting using an enzyme-like molecular catalyst for water oxidation in the journal Nature Catalysis in 2022 (JMU press release). This work was also funded by an ERC Advanced Grant from the European Research Council.

Fuel modeled on nature

In the third funding phase, the focus is on converting carbon dioxide into synthetic fuels. "In this way, the consortium is following nature's example, which also does not produce hydrogen as the final fuel in photosynthesis, but uses it for carbon-based fuels by binding carbon dioxide from the atmosphere," explains Frank Würthner.

Involved in the work at the University of Würzburg, in addition to the Center for Nanosystems Chemistry, are the Institute for Physical and Theoretical Chemistry (Tobias Brixner, Roland Mitric, Merle Röhr), the Institute for Organic Chemistry (Christoph Lambert), the Institute for Sustainable Chemistry and Catalysis with Boron (Holger Braunschweig), and the Chair for Experimental Physics 6 (Vladimir Dyakonov, Jens Pflaum).

Training of students and networking

With the continuation of the SolTech program, the education of students of chemistry and physics in this important future field will also be further advanced. More than 150 doctoral students have been funded by the program over the past ten years.

"Many of them are now making important contributions in industry to the development of a sustainable energy supply and climate-friendly technologies," says Tilman Schneider, a doctoral student from Würzburg, delighted. He is coordinating the activities of the SolTech young scientists throughout Bavaria this year.

In addition to funding doctoral theses, the network fulfills another important task. It links the research activities of the participating Bavarian universities and Bavarian industry with international research networks dedicated to the development of new materials for solar energy conversion. Numerous events are planned for this purpose in 2023. The highlight will be an international conference organized by JMU in Würzburg from October 3 to 5, 2023.


Prof. Dr. Frank Würthner, Center for Nanosystems Chemistry and Institute of Organic Chemistry, University of Würzburg,

SolTech program website:

By Robert Emmerich