The reasons for society to develop new ways of storing and transporting energy are very well established, with both environmental concerns and supply stability featuring heavily. While renewable technologies have the potential to deliver the bulk of our needs, the issue with these approaches is storing and transporting the captured energy as fuels. Thus, there is a pressing desire to develop scalable methods to harness electrical energy in fuels.
Hydrogen has received a great deal of attention as a potential fuel for the future, and this has led to a concept called the ‘hydrogen economy’: the idea that hydrogen can replace fossil fuels in a wide variety of applications. However, hydrogen is a highly flammable gas, making it difficult to store conveniently. An alternative to using hydrogen directly is to use a molecule called formate. This can deliver an equivalent of hydrogen but from a liquid fuel source. The challenge in using formate as a fuel is producing it efficiently and selectively.
In nature, enzymes called formate dehydrogenases (FDH) can interconvert formate and carbon dioxide/acid in a very efficient manner. However, the enzymes themselves are far too large and sensitive to exploit in this way, and working chemical models are needed.
The first functional models of the FDH system are beginning to emerge, but to date are limited in completely replicating the active site of the enzyme. The active site for FDH contains a metal atom, and work to date has been focussed on reproducing the way the metal is held by the enzyme. In this PhD project, we will build on established work in the Wright group to construct truly functional models of FDH featuring these key secondary interactions.