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US DOE Awarding $122M to Establish Energy Innovation Hub for Direct Conversion of Solar Energy to Chemical Fuels

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.



Why not breed new horses, twice as small with twice the capacity, while we're at it and live in the past for another century or so.

richard schumacher

Aircraft at least will need liquid hydrocarbon fuels for the foreseeable future, until some energy storage breakthrough is made or we build a fleet of electric aircraft remotely powered by a network of microwave or laser power transmitters. Fuel manufactured from atmospheric CO2 and any non-fossil energy source will be needed to make air transport carbon neutral.


Umm, at .0387 parts atmosphere there is not a lot of CO2 readily accessible. Maybe conversion from coal fired power plants is the plan. But I agree with Harvey. Better to make liquid fuels from renewable sources like waste and algae.

This money would be far better spent on new ways to electrolyze water. Which our planet is covered by.

Henry Gibson

It will always require more energy to electrolyse water to get hydrogen than is available from the hydrogen.

Just recently a test solar plane flew all day and all night.

Everybody knows that you just put solar cells on airplanes and they will fly just fine; that is except the people who understand solar energy and solar cells and how many horsepower a fanjet requires.

People did not travel much in airplanes until after 1945, just have people travel in electric trains only.

Just to make the information more widely available, it will be mentioned here that, theoretically, the oxygen in the air can be combined with the nitrogen plus water to produce a net amount of energy. This means that all of the oxygen in the air could be used up just leaving the nitrogen. This will bring up the subject of peak oxygen use. Just like hydrogen fusion, no one yet has a commercial process to do it.

The process produces nitric acid that can be used to erode mountains and statues thus putting lots of CO2 back into the air where it was when the mountains were formed.

Solar energy is nuclear energy and it kills many people every day with radiation. Man extracted nuclear energy is much more benign. Far many more people expire because fission energy is not used than would expire if it were used. ..HG..

Craig Shields

Most of our liquid fuels are used for the ground transportation of goods and people - applications for which electric transport is ideally suited and far more efficient.

I firmly believe, after careful consideration, that electric vehicles - trains, trucks and cars - are the direction we should be going, and we should be using solar thermal with molten salt storage distributed across the Sunbelt and feeding power to the whole nation via high voltage direct current transmission.

Here's a little more discussion on those options:





IMO, investing money, time, resources and expertise in the conversion of sunlight to liquid fuel to be burned in inefficient vehicles is a stepping stone set in quicksand that we neither need nor can afford.

Craig Shields, Editor, 2GreenEnergy.com, and author, Renewable Energy - Facts and Fantasies (2010)


The old saying is "if we had ham, we could have ham and eggs, if we had eggs". Trying to transform the world's energy usage all at once it like that. Go with what we have, make a step and then take another.

I have heard the view that intermediate steps will stall achieving the ultimate goal. If the goal is that good, we will get there. Trying to swing for the fence could also lead to a strike out when a base hit could win the game.

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