As part of a broad effort to achieve breakthrough innovations in energy production, the U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) is funding a multidisciplinary team of top scientists to establish an Energy Innovation Hub aimed at developing revolutionary methods to generate fuels directly from sunlight. Over a five-year period, the Joint Center for Artificial Photosynthesis (JCAP) will receive up to $122 million to develop an integrated solar energy-to-chemical fuel conversion system and move this system from the bench-top discovery phase to a scale where it can be commercialized.


Researchers at the Joint Center for Artificial Photosynthesis received a grant last year of $122 million over a five-year period from the DOE to try to make fuel directly from sunlight, carbon dioxide and water. Credit: NAFTC

All fuels used today to power vehicles and create electricity, whether from fossil or biomass resources, are ultimately derived from photosynthesis. The natural photosynthetic apparatus is a remarkable machine, but plants and photosynthetic microbes were not designed to meet human energy needs. Much of the energy captured from the sun is necessarily devoted to the life processes of the plants. But, the JCAP research team and DOE are hoping to open up the entire scale of potential energy benefits by generating fuel directly from sunlight, carbon dioxide and water in a manner analogous to the natural system without any of the energy being lost to the plant life cycle. The impact of replacing fossil fuels with fuels generated directly by sunlight could be immediate and revolutionary.

JCAP will be located in two California-based sites, operating under a unified management structure. The southern California site is on the Caltech campus in Pasadena, Calif., and the northern California site is at the Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory in Berkeley, Calif. JCAP partners include Caltech, Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory, the SLAC National Accelerator Laboratory, UC Berkeley, UC Santa Barbara, UC Irvine and UC San Diego.

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