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Information for Researchers No. 66 | 11 November 2014
Priority Programme „Fuels Produced Regeneratively Through Light-Driven Water Splitting: Clarification of the Elemental Processes Involved and Prospects for Implementation in Technological Concepts” (SPP 1613)

The Senate of the Deutsche Forschungsgemeinschaft (DFG, German Research Foundation) has announced in 2011 the establishment of a new Priority Programme entitled “Fuels Produced Regeneratively Through Light-Driven Water Splitting: Clarification of the Elemental Processes Involved and Prospects for Implementation in Technological Concepts” (SPP 1613). The programme is scheduled to run for six years; the present call invites proposals for the second three-year funding period.

The objective is to investigate artificial photosynthesis based on solid-state inorganic materials from a fundamental scientific perspective as well as the aspects of material science required for its technological implementation. It is expected to be able to successfully produce storable fuels in the form of H2 with a high energy content using solar light, resulting in a renewable primary energy carrier that would be sustainable and secure. The artificial systems that have been identified thus far are limited with respect to conversion efficiency and lifetime, and are furthermore too expensive for technological implementation. New basic approaches are thus required that merge scientific innovation with advanced engineering strategies. Therefore, only systems with the potential of providing energy conversion efficiencies approaching ten percent will be considered.

Efficient artificial photosynthesis can only be realised by coupling a number of successive elementary processes, including broad-band light absorption, optimised charge carrier generation and separation as well as an efficient electrocatalytic production of H2 and O2 from H2O in separated compartments. For technological implementation, complex device structures must be manufactured, preferably using materials that are economical, abundant and non-hazardous. In the face of the diversity of possible solutions this programme concentrates on the combination of photovoltaic converters and electrocatalysts, both of which are highly efficient and stable, a strategy which may lead to viable solutions in the near future. Semiconductors will be used for light absorption, since they provide the best results for charge carrier generation. As potential means of generating the photovoltage needed for water-splitting, wide band gap compound semiconductors, low band gap tandem structures, and doped oxides with visible light absorption and efficient charge carrier transport properties will be investigated. Nano-sized or molecularly deduced (biomimetic) particles will be examined for use as electrocatalysts in subsequent multi-electron transfer. The key factors for a promising system include loss-minimised charge transfer from the photovoltaic converter to the catalyst, a highly efficient and selective catalyst, and the stability of the complete system in an aqueous solution.

The requirements cannot be met without a detailed analysis of the elementary processes involved as well as the materials and devices used in successful implementation. The funded projects are to investigate selected promising model systems in order to achieve an enhanced understanding of the conditions needed for efficient light induced water-splitting. This will be done in close cooperation among subgroups using the most recent experimental characterisation techniques in combination with advanced theoretical simulation approaches. Furthermore, it is expected that singular components (as e.g. absorbers and electrocatalysts) will be combined to systems and investigated in their cooperative interactions.

To foster collaboration between the various research groups participating in the programme, proposals should preferably involve consortia of two to three principal investigators of complementary expertise concentrating on a specific subject. Furthermore, the consortia will develop and cultivate close mutual collaboration between each other in order to disseminate the expertise gained in the process of their experimental or theoretical work programmes. Knowledge exchange and potential collaboration will be outlined already in each research proposal. Because of the evident need for concentration and specialisation within this Priority Programme, each research group shall be assigned to one of the research areas listed below. Proposals that focus on more than one of these points are highly welcome. When selecting the materials, environmental compatibility, the abundance and cost of the elements employed as well as resistance to photocorrosion must be taken into account or may be subject of investigation.

Research areas:

  • Photoelectrochemical systems
  • Electrocatalytic systems
  • Model systems

A more detailed description of the research areas is provided in the full announcement on the website of the Priority Programme: http://www.solarh2.tu-darmstadt.de/solarh2/index.de.jsp

Additional constraints

As there have been already a large number of insufficiently successful research efforts in this field during the last 30 years, new research proposals will provide ample arguments for the novelty of their approach in contrast to published findings and detail the researchers’ expectations in each case as to how they intend to overcome the barriers to artificial photosynthesis encountered thus far. As stated above, new propositions within this programme should follow an inorganic solid-state approach to artificial photosynthesis. Biological and molecular approaches will not be considered here. The submission of proposals is also not encouraged which do not suggest novel materials and device structures and do not provide reasonable arguments as to why and how the particular approach will lead to improved solutions compared to past studies available in the literature. Work on pure standard oxides (as e.g. TiO2, Fe2O3 or WO3) will not be considered; but new ideas for the combinatorial use of these materials or new material classes as absorbers, catalysts, or buffer layers are welcome. These constraints may not be applicable to model systems, which will be studied for the understanding of elementary steps at the solid-liquid interface. Theory proposals should be linked to experimental work and should be related to other projects in the programme. Suggested practical systems should have bandgaps in the visible part of the solar spectrum EG= 1 – 2 eV for tandem devices and 1.8 – 2.5 eV for single absorber systems; both should allow for a successful transport of the generated charge carriers to the active sites.

Submission of proposals

Proposals for the second three-year funding period must be submitted in English by 28 January 2015 via the DFG’s electronic submission system “elan”. Please select “Schwerpunktprogramm” and call “SPP 1613/2”. If you are using the elan system for the first time, please note that you need to register yourself and your institutional address before being able to submit a proposal. Also, if you are planning to move to a different institution (e.g. with a Temporary Position for Principal Investigators) you need to register the new institutional address beforehand. Please make sure that all applicants of your project (in case there is more than one) start their registration at the latest two weeks before the submission deadline. The registration requests are handled manually by DFG staff.

Please send a copy of the summary of the proposal by electronic mail to the secretary of the Priority Programme, Leslie Frotscher, lfrotscher@surface.tu-darmstadt.de.

The responsibilities assigned to each scientific co-worker should be evident from the work programme within the proposal, specifically the tasks to be completed by PhD students or postdocs. In the case of joint proposals, the assignment of requested funds to the individual PIs should also be evident. Please study carefully DFG’s new publication rules.

Further Information

Detailed information can be found on the Priority Programme’s website:

Grant proposals can be submitted at:

Guidelines and Proposal Preparation Instructions (form 1.02e) are available at:

For scientific enquiries please contact the coordinator of the Priority Programme:

Further instructions on submitting a proposal are provided by the DFG:

For administrative matters:

For scientific matters: