DOE Establishes Research Hub For Solar Fuels

The U.S. Department of Energy announced an investment of $122 million over five years to establish a a so-called Energy Innovation Hub to develop revolutionary methods to generate fuels directly from sunlight.

The Joint Center for Artificial Photosynthesis (JCAP), to be led by the California Institute of Technology (Cal Tech) in partnership with the U.S. Department of Energy’s Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory (Berkeley Lab), will bring together multidisciplinary researchers in an ambitious effort aimed at simulating nature’s photosynthetic apparatus for practical energy production. The goal of the Hub is to develop an integrated solar energy-to-chemical fuel conversion system and move this system from the bench-top discovery phase to a scale where it can be commercialized.

"The Energy Innovation Hubs have enormous potential to advance transformative breakthroughs," Deputy Secretary of Energy Daniel Poneman. "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."

The Fuels from Sunlight Energy Innovation Hub is one of three Hubs that will receive funding in FY10. In May, the Department announced that a team led by Oak Ridge National Laboratory will establish a Hub on modeling and simulation for nuclear reactors. The selection for the remaining Hub will be announced over the coming months.

JCAP research will be directed at the discovery of the functional components necessary to assemble a complete artificial photosynthetic system: light absorbers, catalysts, molecular linkers, and separation membranes. The Hub will then integrate those components into an operational solar fuel system and develop scale-up strategies to move from the laboratory toward commercial viability. The ultimate objective is to drive the field of solar fuels from fundamental research, where it has resided for decades, into applied research and technology development, thereby setting the stage for the creation of a direct solar fuels industry.

The Hub will be directed by Nathan S. Lewis, George L. Argyros Professor and Professor of Chemistry, Cal Tech. Other members of the Hub leadership team include: Bruce Brunschwig (Cal Tech), Peidong Yang (UC Berkeley/Berkeley Lab), and Harry Atwater (Cal Tech).

In addition to the major partners, Cal Tech and Berkeley Lab, other participating institutions include SLAC National Accelerator Laboratory, Stanford, California; the University of California, Berkeley; the University of California, Santa Barbara; the University of California, Irvine; and the University of California, San Diego.

The Hub will be funded at up to $22 million this fiscal year. The Hub will then be funded at an estimated $25 million per year for the next four years, subject to Congressional appropriations.

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