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Scientists could help government achieve UK's net zero carbon target in groundbreaking £7.25 million project

Press release issued: 29 June 2020

Chemists, biochemists and physicists at Bristol, Exeter and Sheffield have teamed up in a £7.25 million five-year project that could drive down the cost of energy production and help in the government’s net zero carbon ambitions.

The Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council (EPSRC) has awarded funding for a programme designed to develop 'Molecular Photonic Breadboards'.  These are organic molecular materials that it is hoped will enable highly efficient capture and transport of light energy.

Solar cells are powered by silicon semiconductors absorbing sunlight and converting that light into electricity. For organic materials to match the efficiency of silicon, scientists need to control the behaviour of excitons - formed when light is absorbed by molecules - much more effectively.

The project, led by Professor Graham Leggett, a chemist at the University of Sheffield.  Professor Leggett said: "Control of excitons is essential for many new and emerging technologies identified in the government's Industrial Strategy as being vital to the economic success of the UK, including solar energy capture, photocatalysis, quantum technologies, and the design of diagnostic devices for personalised medicine.

"An unsolved grand challenge has been to develop design rules for the long-range transport of excitons. Our goal is to solve this grand challenge."

Bristol’s involvement centres on the Bristol BioDesign Institute and Professor Dek Woolfson's protein-design laboratory.  Dek, who is Professor of Chemistry and Biochemistry, commented: "This is a really exciting project.  For several years, we have been designing proteins from scratch mostly just to see if it could be done.  This led to the discovery of a completely new class of proteins that we call alpha-helical barrels.  Their unusual shapes make them ideal for applications of the type that will be explored in this collaboration with Graham and colleagues."  

The £7.25 million grant includes £800,000 for the protein-design work at Bristol.

Further information

About Bristol BioDesign Institute
Bristol BioDesign Institute (BBI) is the University of Bristol's Specialist Research Institute for synthetic biology. With wide-ranging applications from health to food security, BBI combines pioneering synthetic biology approaches with understanding biomolecular systems to deliver the rational design and engineering of biological systems for useful purposes.

This is delivered through multidisciplinary research that brings together postgraduate and postdoctoral researchers, academics, policy makers and industry, whilst also engaging the public with emerging solutions to global challenges.

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