UL researcher awarded €1.5m European grant for energy research

Recently awarded EU funding, Dr MicheáL Scanlon will continue his research work at the University of Limerick
University of Limerick researcher Dr Micheál Scanlon

A University of Limerick (UL) researcher is to benefit from an European Research Council (ERC) Starting Grant to the tune of €1.5m in the further development of clean energy.

Electrochemist Dr Micheál Scanlon is to further develop his research into unfurling a new way of imitating photosynthesis in the leaves of plants to generate clean electricity or solar fuels such as hydrogen gas.

The UL researcher is the only ERC award recipient in Ireland in the area of physical sciences, and one of only three Irish-based researchers to be funded this year.

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The research is aimed at finding solutions for the world’s rapidly growing energy consumption which will double over the next 30 years.

Dr Scanlon’s research into solar photovoltaic (PV) technology is deemed vital to achieve environmentally sustainable progress.

Within the next 15 years, the solar PV market in Europe alone is projected to be worth €10bn per annum.

The new approach taken by the UL researcher aims to eliminate the use of solid materials and instead achieve solar energy conversion using a liquid-to-liquid interface.

“Liquid-liquid interfaces are found everywhere in nature, including in the membranes of cells in plant leaves, which are photosynthetic. There are light-harvesting molecules called chlorophyll in these membranes.

“The liquid-liquid interfaces I use have the fantastic ability to trap and bring molecules together, especially molecules that are similar to chlorophyll. By coating these interfaces in all sorts of light-harvesting molecules, I can create an artificial photosynthetic membrane capable of producing energy.”

The funding grant will go to assisting Dr Scanlon’s goal to study the interaction of light with the artificial photosynthetic membranes he is creating.

The grant was welcomed by Dr Mary Shire, vice-president of research at UL.

“Receiving a European Research Grant is a tremendous accolade for any researcher and this year, Dr Scanlon is one of only three Irish-based researchers to receive an ERC award. We look forward to the progress and findings of his research at the Bernal Institute in UL.”