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Yusuf Hamied Department of Chemistry

Erwin Reisner smiling at camera

Professor Erwin Reisner at a St John's College alumni event, courtesy Dasha Tenditna

Professor Erwin Reisner has been awarded the Royal Society of Chemistry 2024 Tilden Prize for Chemistry.

The prize was awarded for Reisner’s “pioneering work on solar chemistry, developing devices that capture sunlight and produce sustainable fuels and chemicals from carbon dioxide, biomass and plastic waste.”

Reisner said: “I am delighted to receive this award as recognition for my team’s efforts and contributions at a crucial stage of our research journey. It provides motivation to accelerate the development of our solar chemical technologies.”

Renewable energy and sustainable chemistry

Reisner has been Cambridge’s Professor of Energy and Sustainability since 2017. He is an expert in renewable energy and sustainable chemistry, in particular the sunlight-powered production of sustainable fuels and platform chemicals. The Reisner Lab is developing emerging technologies and demonstrating innovative prototype devices for the solar-powered conversion of waste, water and air into practical fuels and chemicals.

Some of the technologies being developed by Reisner and his team include artificial leaves and photocatalyst sheets, which convert solar energy, water and the greenhouse gas carbon dioxide into chemical fuels such as syngas, formate, acetate and ethanol; and solar reforming, which uses only solid waste streams, water and sunlight to produce green hydrogen fuel. A recent review in Nature Reviews Chemistry gives an overview of plans for this technology.

Prestigious Chair

Reisner has recently been awarded a Royal Academy of Engineering Chair in Emerging Technologies, which will enable him to focus on strategically developing these methods, which can help to decarbonise the otherwise difficult transport and chemical sectors.

Head of Department Professor James Keeler said: “This prize, coming close on the heels of the award of a Royal Academy of Engineering Chair in Emerging Technologies, underlines the esteem with which Erwin is held by the scientific community, and acknowledges the significance and scope of his pioneering work on solar-powered chemistry. I could not be more delighted for him.”

Aspiring to a Cambridge Circular Chemistry Centre

Reisner’s ambition is to found the Cambridge Circular Chemistry Centre in the Department of Chemistry, which will accelerate the multi-disciplinary research and engineering that is needed to support the transition to solar chemical technologies. He plans to raise £3 to £5 million in funding from donations to launch the centre in the next two years, and a total of £20 million over the next ten years to bring this visionary plan to fruition.

“I am excited by the visibility this prize provides for solar chemistry and our research field in general - it highlights the huge potential and opportunities of this rapidly growing field of research,” said Reisner.

Keeler added: "The Tilden Prize is further recognition of Erwin’s ground-breaking research and visionary approach. The proposed Circular Chemistry Centre will be a great vehicle for accelerating this innovative research and moving on from the lab to a larger scale – and with Erwin at the helm there is every chance of great success in this crucially important endeavour."

The Tilden Prizes are awarded for outstanding contributions to chemistry research made by established career scientists. In addition to a monetary prize, Reisner will be invited to deliver a series of prize lectures at universities across the UK and Ireland.

Previous recipients from this department include Professors Chris Hunter, David Wales, Ian Paterson, John Meurig Thomas, Lord Lewis, Jim Staunton, Stephen V. Ley, Anthony Kirby, Ian Smith, Dudley Williams, Harry Eméleus and Lord Todd.

Below: Reisner speaking about his group's research at Chemistry Open Day in March, courtesy Nathan Pitt. Reisner's research demonstrates how the chemical fuels which underlie modern society can be created sustainably through solar energy, water and re-captured carbon dioxide.