CE50 - Sciences de base pour l’Energie

Photocatalysts based on Earth-abundant metals: towards a sustainable production of solar hydrogen – SunHy

Submission summary

In an attempt to fight against climate change and global warming, our global carbon footprint must be reduced to a minimum. This incredible challenging objective implies the use of sustainable sources of energy and raw materials, having become an intense focus of research in recent years. In this context, fuel cells are booming again, especially in long-range auto-mobility, since zero CO2 emissions are produced. However, the sustainable and efficient production of hydrogen and oxygen is still an open question and remains a major long-term endeavor. Indeed, most hydrogen is produced from fossil resources such as natural gas or coal, but also from water electrolysis that uses non-renewable electricity. Therefore, there is a clear and urgent need for generating sustainable hydrogen. To tackle this problem, photochemical water splitting offers an incredible possibility of producing hydrogen as well as oxygen from inexhaustible solar energy. Thus, intermittent sunlight would be easily converted into chemical energy carriers for its storage, transportation, and eventual utilization. More importantly, the association of the water-splitting process with that of a fuel cell, producing only water that would be fed back into the water splitting scheme, is undoubtedly a truly sustainable process.

Concerning hydrogen evolution, a great deal of photocatalytic materials has been developed, but none of them would allow for large-scale hydrogen production. In the project SunHy, we aim at developing efficient low-cost photoactive systems for photocatalytic proton reduction by mimicking Nature’s approach in leaves. Indeed, we propose exploring solutions based on metalorganic photo-systems bearing only Earth-abundant elements such as iron and cobalt for light-harvesting and redox catalysis, respectively. While the remarkable catalytic properties of cobalt for hydrogen generation have long been demonstrated, iron photosensitizers have been elusive until very recently. Moreover, assemblies bearing base metals have been barely described, and their photophysical and photochemical behavior is still completely unknown. To this end, the consortium of the SunHy project gathers recognized expertise in chemical design and synthesis, and novel Fe/Co heterosystems will be prepared based on the recently achieved breakthroughs of Fe(II) and Fe(III) complexes with extended excited-state lifetimes up to the ns range. Furthermore, expertise regarding characterization techniques together with advanced ultrafast spectroscopy, covering the mid-IR to X-ray domains, will allow not only to understand the working principle of the assemblies but also to improve it upon chemical redesign.

Thus, the expected outcome of the SunHy project is a new class of rationally designed photo-catalytic molecules for energy-efficient production of hydrogen to pave the way for long-term large-scale practical applications.

Project coordination

Cristina Cebrián Ávila (Laboratoire Lorrain de Chimie Moléculaire)

The author of this summary is the project coordinator, who is responsible for the content of this summary. The ANR declines any responsibility as for its contents.


L2CM Laboratoire Lorrain de Chimie Moléculaire
UPB University of Paderborn / Chair for Inorganic Chemistry and Center for Sustainable Systems Design
FUB Free University Berlin / Department of Physics
IPCMS Institut de physique et chimie des matériaux de Strasbourg (UMR 7504)

Help of the ANR 828,813 euros
Beginning and duration of the scientific project: February 2022 - 36 Months

Useful links

Explorez notre base de projets financés



ANR makes available its datasets on funded projects, click here to find more.

Sign up for the latest news:
Subscribe to our newsletter