Solar energy conversion has the power to reduce greenhouse gases and provide increased energy efficiency, says a scientist at the U.S. Department of Energy’s Argonne National Laboratory, in a report (view it online) published in the March 2007 issue of Physics Today.

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The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) of the United Nations released a report confirming global warming is now. It’s attributed to the growing threat to the man-made burning of fossil fuels.

Opportunities to increase solar energy conversion vs using fossil fuels. Now with energy storage it’s the holy grail. The two are in part addressed in a Physics Today article. It was co-authored by George Crabtree, senior scientist and director of Argonne’s Materials Science Division. As well as Nathan Lewis, professor of Chemistry at Caltech and director of its Molecular Materials Research Center.

Currently, between 70 percent and 75 percent of our energy comes from fossil fuels. However, fossil fuel resources are of finite extent. Finally they are distributed unevenly beneath the Earth’s surface. When fossil fuel is turned into useful energy through combustion, it often produces environmental pollutants. Pollutants that are harmful to human health and greenhouse gases.

Things that as a result threaten the global climate. In contrast, solar resources are widely available. They also have a benign effect on the environment and climate. Therefore making it an appealing alternative energy source.

Argonne carries out forefront basic research on all three solar conversion routes. The laboratory is creating next-generation nanostructured solar cells. They are using as a result sophisticated atomic layer deposition techniques. Those that replace expensive silicon with inexpensive titanium dioxide and chemical dyes. Because its artificial photosynthesis program imitates nature. All using simple chemical components to convert sunlight, water and carbon dioxide directly into electricity.

They develop hierarchical, bio-inspired photosynthetic assemblies. All to test concepts for coupling single-electron excited-states of light-harvesting molecules to long-lived charge separation, charge accumulation, and ultimately, multiple-electron, proton-coupled water-splitting and solar fuels catalysis.

The program integrates artificial photosynthetic system design and synthesis with advanced characterization techniques. This combination integrates structure and dynamics at the atomic scale. It also correlates these to solar energy conversion function. The program highlights the development of high-resolution and time-resolved synchrotron X-ray spectroscopy. As well as scattering techniques, multi-frequency electron paramagnetic resonance and ultrafast optical spectroscopes.

So they are combining advanced synthesis and atomic-scale ways to investigate mechanisms for solar-to-chemical energy conversion. At the fundamental level developing first-principle concepts. Concepts needed for the design of advanced solar systems.

Also, the Physics Today article is based on the conclusions contained in the report. The report of the Basic Energy Sciences Workshop of the Solar Energy Utilization; sponsored by the U.S. Department of Energy and Crabtree and Lewis.

So therefore the key conclusions of the report show opportunities for higher solar energy efficiencies. All in the areas of:

  1. Electricity – important research developments in new, less expensive materials for solar cells. Cells therefore including organics, thin films, dyes and shuttle ions. As well as gaining an understanding the dynamics of charge transfer. Especially across nanostructured interfaces.
  2. Fuel – solar energy conversion of photons converts into chemical fuel. Even more resourcefully by breeding or genetically engineering designer plants. Thereby connecting natural photosynthetic pathways in novel configurations. As well as using artificial bio-inspired nanoscale systems.

  3. Heat controls the size, density and distribution of nanodot inclusions. Especially during bulk synthesis enhancing thermoelectric performance. Finally, then becoming a more reliable and inexpensive electricity. Especially produced from the sun’s heat.

Posted on : 2007-03-06 Author : Argonne National Laboratory News Category : PressRelease