Want to generate innovation? Build a hub to make it happen. The U.S. Department of Energy is embarking on an ambitious plan to speed up energy innovation with a $122 million cash injection for an Energy Innovation Hub in California. Dubbed the Joint Center for Artificial Photosynthesis, the research center will do exactly as its name suggests—develop a solar energy fuel conversion system through artificial photosynthesis and bring it to commercialization.
The DOE has selected an all-star team of researchers to get the hub going. Participants include researchers from Cal Tech, Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory, SLAC National Accelerator Laboratory, and the University of California, Irvine. The project will probably take a long time to get going—solar fuels have lagged in research and development for years, and bringing them into widespread use will take a concerted effort.
The DOE hints at the magnitude of the scientists' undertaking:
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 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.
Ambitious, yes, but the DOE is confident that the Innovation Hub model could work for a variety of projects. Oak Ridge National Laboratory is already working on a nuclear reactor hub, and a third hub will focus on radically improving energy efficiency.