We all know that plants do an excellent job of turning sunlight into fuel, via the process of photosynthesis. Can humans achieve a similar feat, via artificial photosynthesis? Researchers at Caltech believe that the answer is ‘yes,’ and the U.S. Deputy Secretary of Energy Daniel Poneman has announced that the Department of Energy (DOE) will be supporting their research.
The DOE grant will dedicate $122 million over five years to a multidisciplinary team composed of top scientists from Caltech and the DOE’s Lawrence Berkeley Lab to establish an Energy Innovation Hub aimed at developing revolutionary methods to generate fuels directly from sunlight. The Joint Center for Artificial Photosynthesis (JCAP) will bring researchers together in an ambitious effort aimed at simulating nature’s photosynthetic apparatus for practical energy production. The goal of this Hub will be to develop an integrated solar energy-to-chemical fuel conversion system–and then, as quickly as possible, to move such a system to a commercial-ready scale.
According to Berkeley Lab, the Fuels from Sunlight Energy Innovation Hub is one of three Energy Innovation Hubs that will receive funding in FY10. In May, the DOE announced that a team led by Oak Ridge National Laboratory would establish a Hub on modeling and simulation for nuclear reactors; the selection for the remaining Hub will be announced over the coming months. These Hubs are large, multidisciplinary, highly-collaborative teams of scientists and engineers working over a longer time frame to achieve a specific, high-priority goal.
JCAP research, according to Caltech, will be directed at the discovery of the functional components necessary to assemble a complete artificial photosynthetic system, including light absorbers, catalysts, molecular linkers, and separation membranes.The ultimate objective is to drive the field of solar fuels from fundamental research–where it has stayed for decades–into applied research and technology development, thereby setting the stage for a direct solar fuels industry.