A USD122 million fund was awarded by the U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) for the establishment of a research center that aims to develop ways of producing fuel using sunlight. Led by researchers at Caltech and the Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory, the project will tap other prestigious California institutions such as Stanford University, and the University of California (Irvine and Berkeley campuses).
According to Nate Lewis, director of the center and a chemistry professor at Caltech, the goal is to commercialize fuels made using only sunlight, water, and carbon dioxide. In other words, make artificial photosynthesis a scalable, viable and economical reality.
Research on artificial photosynthesis tends to isolate on a certain aspect of photosynthesis (e.g. materials for trapping sunlight better, synthesis of better catalysts for splitting water etc.). The research center aims to become a nexus for collaboration that will employ rapid, automated experimentation methods to accelerate the development process.
The center plans to set up two facilities—one at the Berkeley Laboratory campus and another on the Caltech campus—as a first step. Over 150 researchers and 30 principal investigators will work full-time on the project over the next five years.