Solar In Your Gas Tank: US Will Rev Up Research

There are big differences between the energy and environmental policies of President Obama and Mitt Romney, but one thing they both say the support is federally backed cleantech reasearch.

We can only hope that whichever man wins on Nov. 6 will stick to that vow and be able to galvanize Congress to come through with the funding in the face of intense pressure to slash budgets, because in a a couple of years, the Solar Energy Research Center (SERC) at the Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory (Berkeley Lab) will be ready to rock and roll.

solar energy research center, berkeley lab

image via Berkeley Lab

Officials on Friday broke ground on the center, which will house research laboratories and the offices of the Joint Center for Artificial Photosynthesis (JCAP), a U.S. Department of Energy backed partnership between the Berkeley Lab and project lead Caltech.

The JCAP was announced back in 2010 as one of three “Energy Innovation Hubs” – the other two are focused on energy efficient building design and nuclear energy modeling and simulation.

Joint Center for Artificial Photosynthesis

image via Joint Center for Artificial Photosynthesis

JCAP’s ambition is to figure out a way to leverage the energy of the sun to produce transportation fuels. Or, as the center itself puts it: “(T)o develop a manufacturable solar-fuels generator, made of earth abundant elements, that will use only sunlight, water, and carbon as inputs and robustly produce fuel from the sun ten times more efficiently that current crops.”

The $54 million SERC, which is expected to be completed by late 2014, is on the Berkeley Lab’s campus in the hills above UC Berkeley – but researchers from the university will also be housed there.

“Shoulder to shoulder interaction between scientists discovering new components and engineers developing prototypes is the key for accelerating the pace towards a solar fuel technology,” Berkeley Lab’s JCAP director, Heinz Frei, said in a statement.

Sports columnist, newspaper desk guy, website managing editor, wine-industry PR specialist, freelance writer—Pete Danko’s career in media has covered a lot of terrain. The constant along the way has been a fierce dedication to knowing the story and getting it right. Danko's work has appeared in Wired, The New York Times, San Francisco Chronicle and elsewhere.