Researchers from across disciplines are working together to create energy and fuels directly from sunlight, and create a process that's economically viable.

The Solar Energy-to-Fuels Conversion Challenge

Designing highly efficient, non‐biological, energy conversion “machines” that generate fuels directly from sunlight, water, and carbon dioxide is both a formidable challenge and an opportunity.  Such a process could revolutionize our ability to tap new energy sources that are both renewable and environmentally-friendly while improving energy security. 

Basic research has already provided enormous advances in our understanding of the subtle and complex mechanisms behind the natural photosynthetic system as well as in the use of photochemical methods that mimic key steps in the process -- splitting water and reducing carbon dioxide.  While we have come far, we still lack sufficient knowledge to design solar energy-to-fuel conversion systems with the required efficiency, scalability, and sustainability to be economically viable.

While the task is no doubt a challenge, it holds great promise. By tapping into new energy sources through innovative projects that are both renewable and environmentally friendly, we have the potential to transform America’s energy future.

The Joint Center for Artificial Photosynthesis (JCAP)

The Fuels from Sunlight Energy Innovation Hub was specifically designed as a highly structured organization with three main objectives:

  1. Discovering earth-abundant, robust light absorbers with optimal band gaps to harvest sunlight most effectively and efficiently.
  2. Accelerating the rate of catalyst discovery for solar energy-to-fuel conversion reactions.
  3. Providing system integration and scale-up so that laboratory experiments can be transitioned into prototypes for commercial development.

The progress of the Hub is measured against research and development milestones that are monitored and adjusted based on progress or new directions dictated by new scientific discovery. Research is focused on creating a prototype device that can produce fuel from the sun 10 times more efficiently than plants. On July 22, 2010, the Department of Energy announced the selection of JCAP, a team led by the California Institute of Technology (Caltech), to run the Fuels from Sunlight Energy Innovation Hub.  This group directly partners with the Lawrence Berkeley National Lab (LBNL), SLAC National Accelerator Laboratory (SLAC), and the Universities of California at Irvine and San Diego and will collaborate with the DOE Energy Frontier Research Centers (EFRCs), the DOE core programs, and other national and international organizations.