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Lessons from nature about solar light harvesting

Abstract

Solar fuel production often starts with the energy from light being absorbed by an assembly of molecules; this electronic excitation is subsequently transferred to a suitable acceptor. For example, in photosynthesis, antenna complexes capture sunlight and direct the energy to reaction centres that then carry out the associated chemistry. In this Review, we describe the principles learned from studies of various natural antenna complexes and suggest how to elucidate strategies for designing light-harvesting systems. We envisage that such systems will be used for solar fuel production, to direct and regulate excitation energy flow using molecular organizations that facilitate feedback and control, or to transfer excitons over long distances. Also described are the notable properties of light-harvesting chromophores, spatial-energetic landscapes, the roles of excitonic states and quantum coherence, as well as how antennas are regulated and photoprotected.

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Figure 1: Structural organization of light-harvesting complexes and reaction centres in higher plants and green algae.
Figure 2: Antenna complexes matter more in low light conditions.
Figure 3: Structure and spectroscopy of the major light-harvesting complex of higher plants, LHCII.
Figure 4: Organization of light-harvesting antenna complexes relative to the photosynthetic membrane.
Figure 5: How electronic coherence creates chromophores.
Figure 6: Two-dimensional electronic spectroscopy for the detection of quantum coherence104.

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Acknowledgements

The Natural Sciences and Engineering Research Council of Canada, DARPA (QuBE), the Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council of the United Kingdom (grant EP/G005222/1), the Netherlands Organization for Scientific Research (NWO), the European Research Council (ERC) and the Director, Office of Science, Office of Basic Energy Sciences, of the US Department of Energy under Contract DE-AC02-05CH11231 and the Division of Chemical Sciences, Geosciences, and Biosciences, Office of Basic Energy Sciences of the US Department of Energy through Grant DE-AC03-76SF000098 are gratefully acknowledged for support of this research.

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Scholes, G., Fleming, G., Olaya-Castro, A. et al. Lessons from nature about solar light harvesting. Nature Chem 3, 763–774 (2011). https://doi.org/10.1038/nchem.1145

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