Meet LICROX’s External Advisory Board: Dr. Carolina Gimbert

Carolina Gimbert Suriñach obtained her PhD from the Autonomous University of Barcelona (UAB) in 2008 under the supervision of Prof. A. Vallribera, working on the development of new sustainable organocatalytic processes. After one year as an assistant professor at the same university, she moved to the University of New South Wales (UNSW) to undertake postdoctoral research in the field of bioinorganic chemistry with Prof. S. B. Colbran. In 2012 she started a second postdoctoral position at the Institute of Chemical Research of Catalonia (ICIQ) in the group of Prof. A. Llobet. During this time, she developed hydrogen evolution and water oxidation photocatalytic systems. In 2015 she was promoted to scientific group coordinator and her research focused on implementing molecular catalysis into water-splitting devices. After a short stay in the University of Barcelona (UB) as a Serra Húnter professor in 2020, in early 2021 she joined the Chemistry Department of UAB as a Ramón y Cajal fellow. Her scientific interests are in the field of photocatalysis as well as organic and hybrid materials with application in organic synthesis and artificial photosynthesis. 

How would you define LICROX in three words?

Sustainable energy, multidisciplinary (because a project like this without the input of different fields of expertise wouldn’t be possible), and challenging.

What are the biggest challenges for solar fuel production right now?

If we talk about solar fuels and specifically about CO2 reduction, the selectivity of the process is the biggest challenge from a scientific point of view. Not having good selectivity can have big consequences, as processing the final products obtained through the reduction will be more challenging and therefore, the implementation of the technology will also be hindered. Selectivity will greatly influence the usability of the final material. Another challenge is to make the process 100% sustainable. One of the ways to achieve this is by exclusively using sunlight as the energy source, which means that all components of the final device must be working in a synchronised manner to achieve the final goal, that is, converting the light into chemical energy, and this isn’t trivial.

What advantages do photoelectrochemical cells (PEC) present when compared to other technologies?

PECs are in the early stages of technological development when compared to other strategies, but if the LICROX vision succeeds, it will obtain a very compact device. Right now, it would be possible to combine a commercially available photovoltaic cell with an electrolytic tank, but when used at an industrial scale, like the reactors we know from big chemistry, such infrastructures are not demonstrated to balance cost and energy output. If, as LICROX envisions, it succeeds at combining the elements in the form of a PEC, it will be much more compact, and thus the technology will be incorporated in a less invasive way, solving a wider range of needs. Achieving this will be a great leap in the long term, although now it’s a scientific challenge and more complex than other available technologies.

How is LICROX pushing innovation in the sustainable energy landscape?

One of the most important things about the LICROX project is that it brings together experts from different fields that otherwise would probably not have collaborated. The LICROX consortium is an ambitious and important goal by itself, which has allowed the teams to find productive synergies. From a scientific point of view, LICROX is trying to address the selectivity problem discussed earlier. If the project succeeds at improving the selectivity of the process this will represent a great advance towards a functional PEC device. Creating this compact device that directly transforms sunlight into chemical energy would mean that the technology could be adopted in the mid-term. This would be a great achievement for LICROX – and society at large.

In your opinion, what is the most important thing LICROX does for the scientific community?

The collaboration to develop green technology that generates energy. LICROX is trying to find a new path towards a green and sustainable energy, if it succeeds at producing fuels or value-added chemicals (such as ethylene) from CO2 it would be a great achievement. Of course, if the ethylene is used to produce polymers, it wouldn’t be 100% renewable, but it will still contribute to reducing the consequences of the current energetic system. This new technology will be an alternative to the fuels we are currently using – which we know are causing many problems. So once more, scientific research will have an impact on society.

What does serving on the LICROX board give you?

This is the first advisory board I’m on, it’s very enriching. From a scientific point of view, although LICROX is in my field expertise, it has a complementary approach to what I do. Serving on the board allows me to meet and network with scientific experts in the sustainable energy field.