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Photoelectrochemical complexes for solar energy conversion that chemically and autonomously regenerate


Naturally occurring photosynthetic systems use elaborate pathways of self-repair to limit the impact of photo-damage. Here, we demonstrate a complex consisting of two recombinant proteins, phospholipids and a carbon nanotube that mimics this process. The components self-assemble into a configuration in which an array of lipid bilayers aggregate on the surface of the carbon nanotube, creating a platform for the attachment of light-converting proteins. The system can disassemble upon the addition of a surfactant and reassemble upon its removal over an indefinite number of cycles. The assembly is thermodynamically metastable and can only transition reversibly if the rate of surfactant removal exceeds a threshold value. Only in the assembled state do the complexes exhibit photoelectrochemical activity. We demonstrate a regeneration cycle that uses surfactant to switch between assembled and disassembled states, resulting in an increased photoconversion efficiency of more than 300% over 168 hours and an indefinite extension of the system lifetime.

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Figure 1: Schematic of self-assembled photoelectrochemical complexes.
Figure 2: Structural characterization of self-assembled photoelectrochemical complexes.
Figure 3: Purification of self-assembled photoelectrochemical complexes.
Figure 4: Optical signatures of the assembled RC–ND–SWNT complex.
Figure 5: Kinetic model illustrating ND–SWNT concentration throughout dialysis.
Figure 6: Photoelectrochemical activity of an assembled RC–ND–SWNT complex in a photoelectrochemical cell.
Figure 7: Photoelectrochemical activity of a RC–ND–SWNT complex that autonomously regenerates.


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This work was financially supported by a grant from ENI Petroleum Co. Inc. Eni S.p.A. under the Eni–MIT Alliance Solar Frontiers Program, seed funding from the MIT Energy Initiative (MITEI) and the U.S. Department of Energy (grant no. ER46488). M.H.H. is grateful for support from the Korea Research Foundation Grant funded by the Korean Government (MOEHRD) (KRF-2007-357-D00133). J.H.C. acknowledges financial support from Purdue University. Membrane scaffold proteins were produced and initial PSII reconstitution experiments were supported by NIH GM33775.

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M.H.H., J.H.C., A.A.B. and M.S.S. designed the research. M.H.H., J.H.C., A.A.B., R.A.G. and D.A.H. synthesized the complexes. M.H.H. performed the photoelectrochemical experiments. J.H.C. purified the complexes and performed the spectroscopic experiments with A.C.C. A.A.B. performed kinetic modelling of complex formation. E.S.J. performed modelling of the DMPC configuration on the SWNT. A.M. and C.A.W. supplied the photosynthetic reaction centres. Y.V.G. and S.G.S. supplied the membrane scaffold proteins and conducted initial reconstitution experiments. T.H.B., A.S.Z. and K.J.V. performed AFM measurements. E.K.H. performed SANS measurements. M.S.S. originated the concept for the paper. M.H.H., J.H.C., A.A.B. and M.S.S. co-wrote the manuscript with input from S.G.S. and C.A.W.

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Correspondence to Michael S. Strano.

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Ham, MH., Choi, J., Boghossian, A. et al. Photoelectrochemical complexes for solar energy conversion that chemically and autonomously regenerate. Nature Chem 2, 929–936 (2010).

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