Earlier this week the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill announced that it received a $10.8 million grant from the U.S. Department of Energy’s Office of Basic Energy Sciences to continue its work at the Energy Frontier Research Center for Solar Fuels (EFRC). The center is developing solar fuels, particularly developing a dye-sensitized photoelectrosynthesis cell (DSPEC).
Basically the research is aimed at reaching beyond photovoltaics and solar electricity. Whereas solar panels create an electric current by harvesting photons from the sun, the photosynthetic cells will take a source like water or even carbon dioxide and split it into its constituent elements. “The target of a DSPEC is production of a high energy fuel with oxygen as the co-product in the physically separated compartments of a photoelectrochemical cell,” according to the center.
Creating an artificial photosynthetic method would be much more efficient at converting the sun’s rays into a fuel than plants are able to do and would create a solar fuel that can be used or stored even when the sun’s not shining. As such it could make better, more efficient biofuels than are currently available.
“We are delighted with the news of continued support by the Department of Energy for our leading edge research on a new approach to solar energy conversion and storage,” said Thomas J. Meyer, UNC’s Arey Professor of Chemistry. “Continued funding will allow us to move ahead in this important area with the twin goals of mastering the basic science behind the dye sensitized photoelectrosynthesis cell and applying it to water splitting into hydrogen fuel and oxygen and in reducing carbon dioxide to useful carbon fuels.”
The research center in 2009 with a five year, $17.5 million award from the DOE, according to UNC. At the time it was one of 46 Energy Frontier Research Centers at the time only about half of them received additional funding from the DOE, which is supporting such research centers with $100 million in annual funding. While only about half of the original 46 remain, 10 new EFRC centers were added in the second round of funding this year, UNC said.As such there are now 32 centers supported by DOE funding even though the DOE received more than 200 proposals for such research centers.
Energy Sciences to advance emerging solar energy technologies and to turn these technologies into devices that can efficiently produce fuels. The effort underway at UNC includes collaborators from University of Florida, Georgia Institute of Technology and the Research Triangle Institute.Tweet