Solar utilization beyond photosynthesis

Nat Rev Chem. 2023 Feb;7(2):91-105. doi: 10.1038/s41570-022-00448-9. Epub 2022 Dec 19.


Natural photosynthesis is an efficient biochemical process which converts solar energy into energy-rich carbohydrates. By understanding the key photoelectrochemical processes and mechanisms that underpin natural photosynthesis, advanced solar utilization technologies have been developed that may be used to provide sustainable energy to help address climate change. The processes of light harvesting, catalysis and energy storage in natural photosynthesis have inspired photovoltaics, photoelectrocatalysis and photo-rechargeable battery technologies. In this Review, we describe how advanced solar utilization technologies have drawn inspiration from natural photosynthesis, to find sustainable solutions to the challenges faced by modern society. We summarize the uses of advanced solar utilization technologies, such as converting solar energy to electrical and chemical energy, electrochemical storage and conversion, and associated thermal tandem technologies. Both the foundational mechanisms and typical materials and devices are reported. Finally, potential future solar utilization technologies are presented that may mimic, and even outperform, natural photosynthesis.

Publication types

  • Review