Solar energy utilisation for direct CO2 reduction to sustainable fuel

Anthropogenic CO2 emission is occurring at a rate that is outpacing nature’s carbon cycle. Global CO2 emissions from fossil fuel combustion were approximately 31 Gigaton in 2009 and are likely to rise to 57 Gigaton in 2050.[1] The overproduction of CO2 is believed to be a major contributor to some undesirable environmental changes, such as global warming, desertification, ocean acidification, etc.[2] Therefore, alleviating the detrimental environmental effects caused by CO2 emission has become a demanding issue in modern society.

CO2 reduction is an ideal method not only to alleviate CO2 emission but also to overcome the energy crisis. The ideal solution is to capture and convert CO2 into small organic molecules with improved energy density, such as carbon monoxide (CO), formic acid, methanol, methane, and so on.[3] And CO2 is one of the most stable molecules. A high activation barrier must be conquered for the transformation of CO2 and one of the best external sources to overcome this barrier is solar energy.

The aim of this project is to directly use solar energy and/or electric power obtained from solar energy to convert CO2 into valuable chemicals and fuels. Unlike the previous research on CO2 reduction, the proposed project will integrate the advantages of photocatalysis and electrocatalysis, also generate new fundamental knowledge of the reaction mechanism and develop efficient catalysts for future applications.

The objective of this project is to enhance the photo-/electro-catalytic reduction of CO2/H2O to chemicals and fuels, by developing alternative reaction processes in an innovative photo-/electro-chemical reactor and designing and synthesising nanostructured photoelectrodes and electrocatalysts with high activity, stability, and reproducibility. Simultaneously, the mechanism of CO2/H2O reduction at the surface of photocatalysts and electrocatalysts will be studied and elucidated. Specifically, the objectives of the proposed project are

  • Design and build a photo-electro-catalytic CO2 reduction system.
  • Develop Metal-based heterostructure catalysts with high activity, stability and favourable product selectivity through facet engineering.
  • Reveal the mechanism of CO2/H2O reduction on the surface of photocatalysts and electrocatalysts to understand the synergistic effects of the photo and electrocatalytic CO2 reduction reactions.
  • Obtain the optimal reaction process of CO2 reduction to produce favourable chemicals with a high kinetics and conversion rate.


The project will be based at the Particle and Catalysis Research Group (PartCat) – a leading (photo(electro))catalysis research group within the School of Chemical Engineering at UNSW under the leadership of Scientia Professor Rose Amal. Student interested to do PhD with us need to apply for admission and scholarship to support the study. Any question regarding admission and scholarship can be directed to or for project details please contact supervisors. (note: Top up scholarships available for CSC students as well as domestic high achiever students).


Supervisor: Prof Rose Amal ( and Dr Jeffery J Pan (



[1]        Dimitriou, I., Garcia-Gutierrez, P., Elder, R. H., et al., Energ Environ Sci, 2015, 8, 1775-1789.

[2]        Lim, R. J., Xie, M. S., Sk, M. A., et al., Catal Today, 2014, 233, 169-180.

[3]        Habisreutinger, S. N., Schmidt-Mende, L. and Stolarczyk, J. K., Angew Chem Int Edit, 2013, 52, 7372-7408.