The direct conversion of sunlight to high energy chemicals by a synthetic device made of inorganic, organic or hybrid materials is an attractive approach for harnessing sunlight in the form of a fuel. While proof of concept for the efficient conversion of solar energy to hydrogen and oxygen by water splitting has been demonstrated, such systems are not yet durable, made of materials that are not sufficiently abundant, or with synthetic processes that are not scalable. Exciting research developments over the past year in laboratories around the world are pointing the way toward robust artificial photosynthetic systems made of abundant elemental components by breaking down long-standing scientific barriers. This article describes research highlights on important improvements on the efficiency and durability of critical components of artificial systems, in particular catalysts. Catalytic systems are emerging that convert carbon dioxide directly to liquid alcohol molecules, desirable as transportation fuels. Moreover, substantial advances have been made on how to efficiently couple the captured solar photons to fuel-forming reactions.