Artificial Photosynthesis

Natural photosynthesis has sustained life on Earth for more than 3.5 billion years, but the exact mechanisms of this very fundamental process are still not completely understood. Unveiling the natural processes that govern nanoscale energy transfer could lead to promising advances in the fields of solar fuels, organic photovoltaics, and carbon capture.


Artificial photosynthesis is a biomimetic process that aims to replicate natural photosynthesis, a very complex series of chemical reactions that reduce carbon dioxide and water to glucose through interactions between photoactive (bio)molecular systems and light. The prospect of efficiently and cost-effectively storing solar energy as clean fuels could present a viable alternative to the use of fossil fuels.


This research will lead to:

  • Understanding how photoactive molecules respond to light at ultrafast resolution.
  • A more comprehensive understanding of the mechanisms of photosynthesis.
  • New insights into electron transfer at the nanoscale.
  • Potentially novel means of producing clean fuels.


Researchers at ICFO are developing and applying novel ultrafast spectroscopic methods tailored to quantify coherent oscillations and transfer times in photosynthetic complexes. They hope to optimise the efficiency of artificial photosynthetic systems through application of the observed principles.


The Molecular Nanophotonics group at ICFO, led by Prof. Dr. Niek van Hulst, has a branch dedicated to the study of light-matter interactions at the nanometric scale, and is currently working on two-dimensional electronic spectroscopy to understand individual molecules and quantum dots as nano-sources/detectors and the dynamics of electron/hole transfer in organic solar cells. Likewise, the Photon Harvesting in Plants and Biomolecules group at ICFO, led by Prof. Dr. Nicoletta Liguori is using experimental tools and molecular dynamics to understand how changes in light, structure and environment regulate the molecular mechanisms of photoactive (bio)molecular systems.

3D fluorescence holography is used to track diffusing particles inside of live cells. Precision at the nanoscale is necessary to unravel the mechanistic details of transport and diffusion at that scale.

Image depicting the study of light-harvesting complexes in plants. Link to paper.