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Honoursmodule: Sun, Energy and Materials


Prof. dr. J. H. van Maarseveen (HIMS)

Entry requirements 

Second and Third year bachelor students participating in an honours programme.

Recommended prior knowledge

Chemistry as part of the courses in the final years at highschool.

Learning Objectives

At the end of the course you will be able to:

  • knows the amount of carbon on earth, its abundance and timeline in fossil materials and in the biosphere (carbon cycle)
  • knows the amount of fossil carbon that is currently used for energy and materials
  • knows the chemical principles of photosynthesis and the properties of the molecules involved
  • knows the facts of CO2 on climate change and the effects on ocean life
  • is able to analyze the problems that have to be solved on the molecular level to arrive at a sustainable society with respect to our energy and materials needs
  • is able to analyze what molecular solutions should be developed to fulfil our energy and materials needs in a sustainable way


In nature, energy from the sun is stored in chemical bonds within glucose via photosynthesis. Burning glucose, as the fuel of life, with molecular oxygen releases a lot of energy thereby producing carbon dioxide and water as side products. Photosynthesis is the name of the reverse reaction. Can mankind copy this carbon-centered circular economy? Besides providing energy, glucose is also the building block for the molecules of life. So artificial photosynthesis would deliver both sustainable energy and materials. Mechanistically, photosynthesis can also be considered as the oxidation of water providing molecular oxygen and hydrogen. By just mimicking this part of photosynthesis by making an ‘artificial leaf’ we would be able to produce molecular hydrogen from water and thus store solar energy. But these are just examples of sustainable molecular solutions for the future, will there be others?

The first goal of this course is to know the facts why and at what pace the transition to both sustainable energy and materials should be carried out. The first part of the course deals with the chemical principles of the carbon cycle (formation of fossile carbon, photosynthesis, current scale of the use of fossile sources for energy and materials, iron and cement). In the second part of the course the molecular solutions will be treated that are currently developed within research institutes and companies. In short, this course deals with the molecular aspects of the current use fossile resources (problems) and the search for sustainable alternatives (solutions).

Preliminary outline of the lectures:

  1. Introductory lecture.
  2. The carbon cycle on earth
  3. Carbon and climate in the past, current and future
  4. Chemical principles of the anthromorphic and natural carbon cycle
  5. Current use of fossile resources for energy and materials
  6. Can we do without carbon in 2050?
  7. Hydrogen
  8. Materials in 2050
  9. Solar to fuel

Teaching format:

The course is organized in 9 lectures (2 hours, evenings) tought by specalists in the field in The Netherlands. Also site visits at research and/or production facilities will conducted (to be planned)


To be determined

Min/max participants

max. 25


Start: November - January on Thursdays 17.30 - 19.30h. ( the schedule will be on Datanose soon)

Study material

Mainly the lecture notes


Registration is possible for first year and higher students participating in an Honours programme from June 6, 2019 10.00 till June 11, 2019 23.00 through the online registration form that will appear on Honoursmodules IIS.

Placement will be at random. If there are still spots open after the application deadline, students will still be able to register.

For questions: please contact Honours-iis@uva.nl 

Honoursmodule: Sun, Energy and Materials
Vorm Honoursonderwijs
Studielast 6 EC,
Voertaal Engels
Start November