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DOE Funds Research on Conversion of Solar Energy to Chemical Fuels

The US Department of Energy recently awarded $12.8 million over three years to 13 research projects investigating the direct conversion of sunlight to chemical fuels. The awards were part of a larger $22.7 set of awards for basic solar energy research.

The projects in this award focus on two major areas:  detailed studies of the machinery of natural photosynthetic systems aimed at biomimetic approaches to solar water splitting and photocatalytic schemes for the direct conversion of sunlight into hydrogen or hydrocarbon fuels.

Converting sunlight into chemical fuels overcomes the problem of the day/night variation of the solar resource and provides solar-derived energy in forms useful for transportation, residential and industrial applications, according to the DOE.

Projects in the Solar Energy to Fuels program are:

Solar Energy to Fuels
Institution Project title
Brookhaven National Laboratory Solar Fuel Production Catalyzed by transition-Metal Complexes
University of Chicago New transition Metal Building Blocks and Assemblies for Photocatalytic Fuel Production
Emory University Solar Energy-Driven Robust Multi-Electron-transfer Catalysts for Water Oxidation
University of Illinois Self Assembly & Self-Repair of Novel Photosynthetic Reaction Center/Single Walled Carbon Nanotube Complexes for Solar Energy Conversion-Synthetic Analogs to Natural Processes
Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory Nanomaterials and Bio-inspired Approaches to Solar Derived Fuels
University of Michigan Two-Dimensional Electronic Spectroscopy of Light-Harvesting Complexes
Montana State University Protein Architectures for Photo-Catalytic Hydrogen Production
North Carolina State University Molecular-Level Organization of Heterometallic Oxides/Organics for Photocatalysis
University of Pennsylvania Semiconductor Ferroelectrics and Surface Nanomaterials for Highly Efficient Solar Hydrogen Production
Pennsylvania State University Nanostructured Photocatalytic Water Splitting Systems
Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute Elucidating the Principles that Control Proton-Coupled Electron transfer Reactions in the Photosynthetic Protein, Photosystem II. A Model for Design of Bio-inspired Photocatalytic Water Splitting
Washington University Mechanism of Solar Energy Storage by Chlorosome Antennas of Green Photosynthetic Bacteria
Yale University Oxomanganese Catalysts for Solar Fuel Production



Interesting stuff. Maybe one will actually be useful. I'd tack another zero onto the end of the budget, though - paid for with an increase of the gas tax, naturally.

Roger Pham

Solid Oxide electrolytic cells at temp ~800 degrees C can generate H2 at twice the efficiency of room-temp electrolysis. Add CO2 to the high-temp steam and methane will also be produced.
So, by using CO2 sequestered from coal-burning plants, and solar energy providing both heat and electricity, both methane and H2 can be produced efficiently.

With the right catalysts, I would imagine that larger hydrocarbon compounds can also be synthesized from CO2 and H2 feedstock, via the like of F-T process.
It seems that photosynthesis would be further along in the R&D process.

Paul Dietz

Maybe one will actually be useful.

Really advanced R&D might have a 1% success rate. But that can be ok. Just be sure to plant lots of seeds.

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