25 September 2012

The Royal Society of Chemistry is marking the centenary of the publication of a seminal paper authored by the 'father of photochemistry'.

To celebrate the latest advances in research on using sunlight to make fuels, the RSC has put together a special collection of freely available journal articles and commentaries.

On 27 September 1912, Italian photochemist and nine-time Nobel Prize nominee Giacomo Ciamician published an article in the journal Science, in which he predicted that the human race would one day be able to directly convert sunlight to energy stored in a fuel as an alternative to fossil fuels.


He wrote: On the arid lands there will spring up industrial colonies without smoke and without smokestacks; forests of glass tubes will extend over the plains and glass buildings will rise everywhere; inside of these will take the photochemical processes that hitherto have been the guarded secret of the plants, but that will have been mastered by human industry... 


And if in a distant future the supply of coal becomes completely exhausted, civilization will not be checked by that, for life and civilization will continue as long as the sun shines!

Ciamician is often referred to as the father of photochemistry and carried out the first systematic studies on the behaviour of organic substances when exposed to light. 


Today, photovoltaic solar panels that produce electricity to power homes and other buildings are an increasingly common sight. But scientists are also working towards another great breakthrough in harnessing the power of the sun; solar fuels. 


By mimicking photosynthesis - nature's way of harvesting sunlight for energy - solar energy can be captured and stored directly in the chemical bonds of a material, or 'fuel.' This has been achieved in the laboratory, but the next step is finding a way to use sunlight, water and carbon dioxide to generate fuels on a commercial scale, as Professor Ciamician predicted.


To celebrate recent scientific advances towards achieving the Italian chemist's dream, the RSC has compiled a one-off collection of the latest articles by leading international scientists, as well as original commentaries setting out their opinions about the future of sustainable energy and solar fuels. This collection will be freely available until 27 October 2012, through the RSC website.

RSC President Professor Lesley Yellowlees said: "The question today is not if we can use sunlight and abundant materials like water and carbon dioxide to produce fuels - the question is whether this can now be achieved outside the laboratory, in our homes, for transport and in industry.  

"This special RSC collection shows that research by world-leading chemists in the area of solar fuels is really gaining momentum. It's so exciting to see that we are making real progress towards Professor Ciamician's vision of a world powered by the sun becoming a reality for the next generation."