Artificial Photosynthesis

Detailed overview of innovation with sample startups and prominent university research

What it is

Artificial photosynthesis aims to replicate the natural process of photosynthesis, using sunlight to convert carbon dioxide (CO2) and water (H2O) into energy-rich fuels and valuable chemicals. This technology holds immense potential to address climate change by capturing and utilizing CO2 while producing sustainable alternatives to fossil fuels.

Impact on climate action

Artificial Photosynthesis, a moonshot innovation, could revolutionize climate action by mimicking natural processes to convert carbon dioxide into valuable fuels and chemicals using renewable energy. This technology offers a sustainable pathway to mitigate greenhouse gas emissions, fostering a cleaner, carbon-neutral future.


  • Photocatalysis: Artificial photosynthesis relies on photocatalytic materials that absorb sunlight and use its energy to drive chemical reactions.
  • Electrocatalysis: Electrochemical processes are often integrated with photocatalysis to enhance the efficiency and selectivity of chemical conversions.
  • Water Splitting: A key step in artificial photosynthesis is splitting water molecules into hydrogen and oxygen, mimicking the first stage of natural photosynthesis.
  • CO2 Reduction: Captured CO2 is then reduced using the energy from sunlight and the hydrogen produced from water splitting, creating fuels like methanol or chemicals like ethylene.
  • Bio-Inspired Designs: Researchers are drawing inspiration from the structure and function of natural photosynthetic systems, such as leaves and chloroplasts, to design more efficient artificial systems.

TRL : 2-3 (early stage research and development)

Prominent Innovation themes

  • Novel Photocatalytic Materials: Scientists are developing new materials, such as metal oxides and organic frameworks, that exhibit high efficiency and stability for photocatalysis.
  • Nanostructured Photoelectrodes: Engineering materials at the nanoscale, creating structures like nanowires and nanotubes, can enhance light absorption and catalytic activity.
  • Artificial Leaf Designs: Inspired by the structure and function of natural leaves, researchers are creating artificial leaf prototypes that integrate photocatalytic materials with microfluidic channels for efficient water and CO2 transport.
  • Hybrid Systems: Combining photocatalysis with electrocatalysis and biocatalysts (enzymes) is being explored to enhance the overall efficiency and product selectivity of artificial photosynthesis.
  • CO2 Capture and Utilization Integration: Artificial photosynthesis systems are being integrated with direct air capture (DAC) technologies to capture CO2 directly from the air and utilize it for fuel and chemical production.

Other Innovation Subthemes

  • Photocatalytic Materials Development
  • Electrochemical Enhancement Techniques
  • Water Splitting Technologies
  • CO2 Reduction Catalysts
  • Bio-Inspired Photocatalyst Design
  • Nanomaterials for Photocatalysis
  • Nanostructured Photoelectrodes
  • Artificial Leaf Prototypes
  • Microfluidic Channel Integration
  • Hybrid Photocatalysis Systems
  • Electrocatalytic Integration
  • Biocatalyst Utilization
  • Methanol Synthesis Innovation
  • Ethylene Production Techniques
  • Solar-Driven Chemical Reactions
  • Sunlight-to-Fuel Conversion
  • Clean Energy Technologies
  • Climate Change Mitigation

Sample Global Startups and Companies

  • HyperSolar:
    • Technology Focus: HyperSolar is known for developing technology that mimics photosynthesis to produce renewable hydrogen using sunlight and water. Their approach involves using nanotechnology and catalysts to split water molecules into hydrogen and oxygen.
    • Uniqueness: HyperSolar’s technology is unique in its direct production of hydrogen from water using solar energy, aiming to provide a sustainable and renewable alternative to fossil fuels.
    • End-User Segments: Their solutions could benefit industries such as energy storage, transportation (fuel cells), and hydrogen production for various industrial processes.
  • Liquid Light:
    • Technology Focus: Liquid Light focuses on transforming carbon dioxide (CO2) into chemicals using renewable energy sources, including artificial photosynthesis. Their technology aims to reduce the carbon footprint of chemical production.
    • Uniqueness: They are unique in their approach to converting CO2 directly into valuable chemicals, thereby contributing to carbon dioxide utilization and reducing greenhouse gas emissions.
    • End-User Segments: Their target segments may include chemical manufacturing, pharmaceuticals, plastics, and other industries looking to reduce their environmental impact and incorporate sustainable practices.
  • Sun Catalytix (now part of Lockheed Martin):
    • Technology Focus: Sun Catalytix was initially focused on developing affordable energy storage solutions using artificial photosynthesis. Their technology aimed to store renewable energy in the form of hydrogen.
    • Uniqueness: They were unique for their integrated approach to renewable energy storage, leveraging artificial photosynthesis to address the intermittency of renewable energy sources.
    • End-User Segments: Their solutions would have targeted energy utilities, renewable energy developers, and regions looking to enhance grid stability and resilience through efficient energy storage solutions.

Sample Research At Top-Tier Universities

  • California Institute of Technology (Caltech):
    • Technology Enhancements: Caltech researchers are advancing artificial photosynthesis by developing novel catalysts and semiconductor materials. They aim to enhance light absorption efficiency and optimize electron transfer processes to improve the overall conversion of solar energy into chemical fuels.
    • Uniqueness of Research: Caltech’s approach involves integrating nanotechnology and molecular biology to mimic natural photosynthetic processes. Their research focuses on scalability and cost-effectiveness, aiming to create artificial systems that can produce fuels such as hydrogen and methanol from sunlight and water.
    • End-use Applications: The artificial photosynthesis technology from Caltech has potential applications in renewable energy storage and distribution. It could enable the production of clean fuels for transportation and industrial processes, contributing to a sustainable energy economy.
  • Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory (Berkeley Lab):
    • Technology Enhancements: Researchers at Berkeley Lab are exploring advanced materials for artificial photosynthesis, including nanostructured catalysts and photoelectrodes. They are innovating in photon capture and conversion efficiency to maximize solar energy utilization in chemical bond formation.
    • Uniqueness of Research: Berkeley Lab’s research integrates fundamental chemistry with materials science and engineering to design efficient photoelectrochemical cells. Their focus includes understanding charge transfer dynamics and developing stable, scalable materials for long-term deployment.
    • End-use Applications: The artificial photosynthesis technology developed at Berkeley Lab could revolutionize the production of renewable fuels and chemicals. It has potential applications in sustainable agriculture, energy storage, and carbon-neutral industrial processes.
  • University of Cambridge:
    • Technology Enhancements: Researchers at the University of Cambridge are advancing artificial photosynthesis through innovative device architectures and photocatalytic materials. They are optimizing light absorption spectra and electron transport pathways to enhance overall efficiency in converting solar energy into chemical fuels.
    • Uniqueness of Research: Cambridge’s approach integrates theoretical modeling with experimental validation to design robust artificial photosynthetic systems. Their research addresses challenges such as stability, scalability, and integration with existing energy infrastructure.
    • End-use Applications: The artificial photosynthesis technology from Cambridge University could enable sustainable production of hydrogen, carbon-neutral fuels, and high-value chemicals. It has potential applications in off-grid energy solutions, transportation fuels, and reducing greenhouse gas emissions in industrial processes.

commercial_img Commercial Implementation

Artificial photosynthesis is still in the early stages of research and development, with no commercial-scale implementations yet. However, significant progress is being made in the lab, and several startups and research institutions are working towards demonstrating the feasibility of this technology for practical applications.