Erwin Reisner

Erwin Reisner is the Professor of Energy and Sustainability and holds a Royal Academy of Engineering Chair in Emerging Technologies in the Yusuf Hamied Department of Chemistry at the University of Cambridge. He is also a Fellow of St. John’s College, Cambridge. He is an expert in renewable energy technologies and sustainable chemistry, in particular the sunlight-powered production of sustainable fuels and platform chemicals. His cross-disciplinary research into solar chemistry and circular chemical technologies focuses on the capture and utilisation of the greenhouse gas carbon dioxide as well as the valorisation of plastics and biomass waste to produce green fuels and chemicals for a net zero future.

Erwin and his team have developed strategies for the integration of synthetic and biological catalysts with semiconductor and photovoltaic light absorbers to enable efficient and selective solar-driven chemical synthesis. The functional assembly of such semiconductor-molecule 'hybrid materials' and 'semi-artificial photosynthesis' biohybrids has led to the construction of autonomous solar-powered prototype devices for solar fuel production, where his laboratory demonstrated the conversion of carbon dioxide into fuels, such as carbon monoxide, formic acid, multi-carbon alcohols or acetic acid, while co-producing oxygen from water through artificial photosynthesis. Erwin’s team has also developed concepts and assembled prototype devices for the solar-powered upcycling of solid lignocellulosic biomass and plastic waste to platform chemicals and fuels through 'solar reforming’. They showed the performance and economic advantages of oxidising solid waste streams instead of oxidising water, which may ultimately enable lab-to-market transition of solar chemistry. To accelerate the commercialisation of solar reforming, he and his colleagues have protected the underlying core IP and co-founded the start-up Protonera. Recently, his team has explored the potential of heterogeneous semiconductor photocatalysts for green organic synthesis and reported solar hybrid technologies to demonstrate the benefits of integrated solar chemistry over conventional photovoltaic-electrolyser approaches.

Erwin’s research on solar chemical technologies has been supported and recognised by several grants, such as an EPSRC Career Acceleration Fellowship (2009-2015), the Christian Doppler Laboratory for Sustainable SynGas Chemistry (2012-2019), a European Research Council (ERC) Consolidator Grant (2016-2023), and an ERC/UKRI Advanced Grant (2023-2028), as well as awards, such as the Corday-Morgan Prize by the Royal Society of Chemistry (2018), the Galvani Prize of the Bioelectrochemical Society (2022) and the Hughes Medal by the Royal Society (2023). He has previously acted as the director of the UK Solar Fuels Network, which coordinates the national activities in artificial photosynthesis (2017-2021) and is currently the principal investigator (academic lead) of the Cambridge Circular Plastics Centre (CirPlas), and co-director of the Centre for Doctoral Training in Integrated Functional Nano (nanoDTC) in Cambridge. Erwin is also a member of the international advisory boards of Angewandte Chemie and Chemical Science.