Turning sunlight to sustainable fuel: Commission launches EIC Horizon Prize for Artificial Photosynthesis

By Made of Lisboa Jul 17, 2020

This prize aims to build a prototype, using photosynthesis, that can produce useable synthetic fuel. Application deadline: 3 February 2021

Turning sunlight to sustainable fuel: Commission launches EIC Horizon Prize for Artificial Photosynthesis
Photo by KARTIK GADA on Unsplash
The European Commission has launched the second of six European Innovation Council (EIC) Horizon Prizes, on Artificial Photosynthesis, run under Horizon 2020, the EU's research and innovation programme.

The challenge is to build a fully functional, bench-scale prototype of an artificial photosynthesis based system which can produce a useable synthetic fuel.

Artificial photosynthesis is widely considered to be among the most promising new technologies to deliver sustainable alternatives to current fuel supplies.

Due to its ability to use a combination of sunlight, water and carbon from the air to produce energy, artificial photosynthesis is regarded as a potential breakthrough energy technology.

It can be used to produce hydrogen or carbon-based fuels – collectively referred to as solar fuels – which offer an efficient and transportable means of storage of solar energy. Solar energy, in turn, can be used as an alternative to fossil fuels and as a feedstock for a wide range of industrial processes.

The device to be built needs to integrate the whole process from light capture to fuel production and be capable of powering a small engine.

For the purpose of this prize, artificial photosynthesis (AP) is understood to be a process that aims at mimicking the physical chemistry of natural photosynthesis by absorbing solar energy in the form of photons.

The solution is required to use this energy to generate fuel molecules through a synthetic system to be delivered as a single integrated device that utilises either biomimetic, nanotechnology, synthetic biology or a combination of these systems.

Prize value

€5 million

This prize will

- stimulate innovation and focus research and development towards energy applications in a new energy technology through increased public and commercial interest

- will accelerate the development of new innovative energy conversion systems using solar light and natural elements to produce renewable fuels to be used in industry, housing and transport

- create a stimulus for industrial participation and creation of start-ups, pushing the artificial photosynthesis technology for fuel production to the next level of development

- generate interest in the subject and foster interdisciplinary collaboration among potential applicants, such as students, young researchers and engineers

- highlight the diversity of potential solutions

The European Commission, manages the contest and awards the prize based on the judgement of independent experts.

Expected results

A number of innovative devices and systems demonstrating the use of sunlight to produce a fuel ready to be used.

Eligibility and award criteria

The contest is open to all legal entities (i.e. natural or legal persons, including international organisations) or groups of legal entities.

The production of fuel in the form of hydrogen and the use of conventional photovoltaic cells for the light harvesting process or to collect light and electrolysers are not permitted. 

The prize will be awarded to the contestant(s) who will, in the opinion of the jury, demonstrate a solution that best meets the following cumulative criteria.

- degree of system integration from light capture to fuel production

- device/system performance

- production of fuel that will be used in an engine

- widest market potential

- commercial potential of the device


- 2017 fourth quarter – contest opens
- 2021 first quarter – deadline to submit applications
- 2021 fourth quarter – prize awarded

Visit https://ec.europa.eu/research/eic/index.cfm?pg=prizes_sunfuel for more information.