The U.S. Department of Energy announced today that it will award up to $122 million to create a Fuels form Sunlight Energy Innovation Hub led by the California Institute of Technology. The Hub’s goal is to develop ways to convert solar energy into chemical fuels and scale the technology for commercial use.
The project is in part inspired by the way plants produce energy, and will use artificial photosynthesis to turn sunlight, water and carbon dioxide into clean fuel. Researchers will be charged with finding ways to use technologies like light absorbers, catalysts, molecular linkers and separation membranes to transform sunlight into fuel, and the DOE aims to quickly turn the research into a viable product in the form of fuel that can go directly into cars without any additional processing.
Artificial photosynthesis is not a new technology, and researchers at MIT and the University of Rochester have been seeking solutions for some time. The DOE hopes the Hub will spark collaborations to make more progress in the field.
The Hub will have two locations: One on Caltech’s campus in Pasadena and one at the Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory in Berkeley. Several other California universities will participate as well, including UC Santa Barbara, UC Irvine and UC San Diego. Funding will be provided over five years, with $22 million awarded this year and up to $25 million per year thereafter.
The Department of Energy’s overarching mission is to advance the national, economic, and energy security of the United States; to promote scientific and technological innovation in support of that mission; and to ensure the environmental cleanup of the national nuclear weapons complex.