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Energy Innovation Hubs and the Quest to Turn Sunlight Into Fuel

July 22, 2010 - 12:01pm

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From the Manhattan Project to AT&T's Bell Laboratories, we've seen the transformative results that can happen when we bring together some of our best scientific minds. American innovation has solved some of the world's toughest problems and made our country a leader in the global economy.

Today, we're looking to the past to help build a brighter future. We're bringing together some of our nation's top scientists and engineers to form multi-disciplinary, highly-collaborative research teams to achieve energy breakthroughs. 

That is the idea behind our new Energy Innovation Hubs. Today I have the pleasure of announcing an award of up to $122 million over five years to establish an Energy Innovation Hub aimed at developing revolutionary methods to generate fuels directly from sunlight.  

The Joint Center for Artificial Photosynthesis (JCAP, for short), will be led by the California Institute of Technology in partnership with Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory and other California institutions, and will bring together leading researchers in an ambitious effort aimed at simulating nature's photosynthetic apparatus for practical energy production.

Finding a cost-effective way to produce fuels as plants do -- combining sunlight, water, and carbon dioxide -- would be a game changer, reducing our dependence on oil and enhancing energy security. The goal is to graduate solar fuels from  laboratory tests to scaled-up prototypes that will  set the stage for the creation of a direct solar fuels industry.  

As Secretary Chu said before Congress in January 2009:

"With this more proactive approach to managing research, we are taking a page from America's great industrial laboratories in their heyday.  Their achievements -- from the transistor to the information theory that makes modern telecommunications possible - are evidence that we can build creative, highly-integrated research teams that can accomplish more, faster, than researchers working separately.

The Hubs will tackle three of the most important energy challenges we face: How can we derive fuels directly from sunlight in an efficient and economical way? How can we design, construct and retrofit commercial and residential buildings that are vastly more energy efficient than today's buildings? How can we use modeling and simulation technologies to make significant leaps forward in nuclear reactor design and engineering? The Hubs are expected to begin work in 2010 and will be fully operational by 2011."

We've seen what can happen when you put America's top minds on a problem and give them the resources and authority they need to follow the research. I look forward to seeing what they do in the years ahead.

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