Faces of the Recovery Act: Sun Catalytix

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Faces of the Recovery Act: Sun Catalytix
At the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, Dan Nocera talks about Sun Catalytix, the next generation of solar energy, and ARPA-E funding through the Recovery Act.
Dan Nocera
Energy Department Video

DANIEL NOCERA:  I started this project 25 years ago, and I was always interested in solar fuels and sunlight that power the world.  When we figured out how to split water and basically use the sunlight to split water to make a solar fuel, that’s exactly what photosynthesis does.  The day we made that discovery, at first we didn’t believe it.  It was too good to be true.  Sunlight plus water makes fuel.  So what does that mean?  It means when the sun is on all the time, you can use it directly, but then the sun goes down.  You can’t use the sun anymore.

So if I could store the sun in terms of a fuel, then at night when the sun goes down, I can use the sun effectively.  Sun Catalytix is the company that’s taking that discovery to a real, live technology.

What we’ve done is we just basically make sunlight available 24 hours a day, seven days a week.  Where Sun Catalytix is headed is that your house would become its own power station and gas station.  All of a sudden you don’t need any more energy from anybody else because you’re using the sun at your house.

We’ve made the discovery.  We know the science works.  We’ve even made prototypes, but what we’re really doing with the ARPA-E money is taking the prototype and saying, that’s no good enough just to have a prototype.  We need to make sure it’s robust and low-maintenance.

What a lot of the venture capital companies are doing now is saying, well, ARPA-E just went through a peer-review process, where they decided what are some of the most promising technologies, so no surprise ARPA-E in some ways has been the seed fund for getting a lot of venture capital – (inaudible) – going.  So that’s where ARPA-E has been really important.  It allows me to maintain my contract with the U.S. public to take my invention to them.

In the next 40 years, you’re going to need more energy than is available from every source you can imagine.  In the energy game, young people can choose lots of different paths.  I’m just asking them to save the world.