At a new building under construction at Lawrence Berkeley Lab, 75 scientists will do research on converting solar energy into transportation fuels.
Their ultimate goal is to move from fundamental to applied research and technology development, setting the stage for a direct solar fuels industry.
"Finding a cost-effective way to produce fuels as plants do -combining sunlight, water, and carbon dioxide - would be a game changer, reducing our dependence on oil and enhancing energy security," said Daniel Poneman, Deputy Secretary of Energy .
The Department of Energy (DOE) lab just broke ground on the Solar Energy Research Center. The 40,000 square-foot, building will be ready in late 2014 at a cost of $54 million. It's targeting LEED-Silver certification and will have a green roof.
Some of the most visionary energy work in the world is planned for that small building by bringing basic science and practical technology development together under one roof. "Shoulder to shoulder interaction between scientists discovering new components and engineers developing prototypes are the key for accelerating the pace towards a solar fuel technology," says Heinz Frei, Director of Berkeley Lab's Joint Center for Artificial Photosynthesis.
It will also provide an important educational environment for raising the next generation of renewable energy scientists, he adds, by including graduate students and postdoctoral fellows from a wide range of science and engineering fields.
In 2010, DOE announced it would invest $122 million over five years to establish an "Fuels from Sunlight Energy Innovation Hub" to develop revolutionary methods to generate fuels directly from sunlight.
The Lab plans to build a much bigger building in Richmond, California where there's more room for a 2-million-square-foot facility. It will house over 800 scientists doing research on bioscience, cancer, bioenergy and other research. Construction has not yet begun, but plans call for the facility to be operational by 2016.
Lawrence Berkeley National Lab has been operating since 1931 and its researchers have been awarded more than a dozen Nobel Prizes.