As part of a broad effort to achieve breakthrough innovations in energy production, the US Department of Energy is awarding up to $122 million over five years to a multidisciplinary team to establish a Fuels from Sunlight Energy Innovation Hub aimed at developing revolutionary methods to generate fuels directly from sunlight.
A Joint Center for Artificial Photosynthesis (JCAP), to be led by the California Institute of Technology (Cal Tech) in partnership with the DOE’s Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory (Berkeley Lab), will bring together leading researchers in an effort aimed at simulating nature’s photosynthetic apparatus for practical energy production. The goal of the Hub is then 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.
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 Energy Innovation Hubs have enormous potential to advance transformative breakthroughs. 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. This Energy Innovation Hub will enable our scientists to combine their talents to tackle this bold and highly promising challenge.—Deputy Secretary of Energy Daniel Poneman
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.
Selection is based on a competitive process using scientific peer review. The selection process for the Fuels from Sunlight Hub was managed by the Department of Energy Office of Science, which will have federal oversight responsibilities for the artificial photosynthesis Hub.
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.
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. The Hubs are large, multidisciplinary, highly-collaborative teams of scientists and engineers working over a longer time frame to achieve a specific high-priority goal. They will be managed by top teams of scientists and engineers with enough resources and authority to move quickly in response to new developments.