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Dr. Isabella Concina, University of Brescia, is leading the project Light Energy. Photo: Mauro Epifani.

Solar refineries can solve the world's energy need

Published: 20 November 2015

Advanced small systems that use solar energy to generate electricity or as solar refineries to produce environmentally friendly fuels, this is something that researchers at Luleå University of Technology and University of Brescia work together to achieve.

The project Light Energy (LiEn), led by Dr. Isabella Concina, is a collaboration between University of Brescia and Luleå University of Technology, supported by Vinnova’s program Mobility for Growth.

Energy for everyone

– The focus of LiEn is to use the latest tools in materials science where the plan is to make systems that can convert sunlight to electricity or to produce environmentally friendly fuels from water and, potentially in the future, from fossil fuel plant wastes. The project is driven by a vision of care for our planet where clean energy will be available for all, says Dr. Isabella Concina at University of Brescia in Italy.

Isabella Concina working in the lab. Photo: Alberto Vomiero.

Breaks water into its components

The systems that Isabella Concina develops are not traditional solar cells, but instead called photoelectrochemical cells. These advanced nanomaterials are effective electrodes that can convert solar energy and the electrodes consist of nanostructured semiconducting metal oxides.

– In the future we hope to have solar refineries where the waste from fossil fuel plants can be recycled to produce energy in the form of for example hydrogen or methanol. The process uses solar energy to create an electrochemical reaction between the nanomaterial and water, and break the water into its components. Then, the energy stored in the chemical bonds can be used as pure chemical fuels. This would drastically reduce the industries' negative impact on the environment also be able to produce clean energy and chemical fuels, says Isabella Concina.

The research has a long-term perspective, and if the scientific results are groundbreaking, the plan is to scale up the new materials to a pre-industrial level.

Sweden’s ambitious environment goals

– Sweden has ambitious environmental goals, including that 49 per cent of the country's energy sources are to be renewable by 2020. It is a great goal and therefore I think Sweden is among the best countries in the world for this project. I think that the opportunity for researchers and students to get involved early in the project will help us to educate a new generation of technically specialized and motivated individuals.

Lien is also the French word for link, which fits well given that the project is part of a long-term collaboration between University of Brescia and Luleå University of Technology. Isabella Concina will work together with Alberto Vomiero, Chair Professor in Experimental Physics at Luleå University of Technology. Researchers with different backgrounds in physics, chemistry and technology from both universities will work together. Isabella Concina also wants to engage colleagues from other universities and research institutes.


Concina, Isabella - Associate Professor

Organisation: Experimental physics, Materials Science, Department of Engineering Sciences and Mathematics
Phone: +46 (0)920 491436
Room: E299 - Luleå»
Alberto Vomiero

Vomiero, Alberto - Professor and Head of Subject

Organisation: Experimental physics, Materials Science, Department of Engineering Sciences and Mathematics
Phone: +46 (0)920 493139
Room: E299 - null»