Professor in Theoretical Chemistry and Biology
Society would appear to have an inexhaustible appetite for energy. This hunger is driving the development of more ways of storing energy in the form of new materials that can act as energy carriers. The key to success is a better understanding of the reactions that occur during the storage of energy.
Mårten Ahlquist is researching into catalysts and materials that can be used for the storage of energy and the catalytic reactions that are used in the production of most materials we use. Here, catalyst means a substance that increases the reaction rate of a process without getting consumed in the process. Our cells contain different enzymes that act as catalysts to produce protein, and in plants, enzymes influence the capacity to absorb energy from the sun via photosynthesis.
As part of his work, Ahlquist uses artificial photosynthesis that imitates the way nature uses sunlight to convert energy-poor substances into energy-rich ones. Here, the molecules are replaced by synthetic catalysts and advanced simulation models are then used to gain a more detailed understanding of them. Most of these models require comprehensive calculations, when it comes to developing an understanding of smaller systems. Many of the models are based on quantum mechanics as the details cannot be described via classical physics. Reactions in especially complex environments require a combination of classical physics and quantum mechanics to be studied, however.
Ahlquist is developing models to gain a better understanding of how everything from surfaces to solvents, additives and electric fields affect catalytic reactions. Such knowledge can then be used to develop the next generation of energy carriers.