Sunlight to Fuel
Pursuing direct conversion of solar energy into fuels, without use of plants or microbes, or artificial photosynthesis.
Petroleum refineries along the Texas Gulf Coast and elsewhere use natural gas to produce hydrogen, the basis for increasing octane in cars and trucks and other vehicles. The problem is, natural gas also produces CO2, a greenhouse gas that contributes to global warming.
Scientists at The University of Texas at Austin wonder why we can’t produce hydrogen as nature does – i.e., from water, using only sunlight?
The Energy Institute Solution
A team of University scientists believe they have found a way to efficiently absorb sunlight and split water into clean hydrogen (H2) fuel without producing CO2.
Again, the deep expertise on the Austin campus is ideally suited for this area. Chemistry professor Allen Bard and chemical engineering professor Charles Mullins lead the University’s Center for Electrochemistry, a multi-faculty collaboration devoted to research on fundamental and applied aspects of electrochemistry. Their preliminary research indicates their discoveries of efficient photomaterials and electrocatalysts can be made within the next five years.
The Energy Institute joined with M.I.T., the National Renewable Energy Laboratory, and the University of Colorado to compete for “Hub” funding from Congress in this area. Though the request was not awarded, the Institute continues to seek support for the Electrochemistry Center’s component of the Hub proposal.
Support for this research has been strong. The Regents of the University of Texas approved $15 million to outfit the 6th floor of the new Hackerman building on campus, subject to the program attracting $5 million a year over a five-year period. The Regents have given the campus a two year “window” to obtain this funding, beginning in February, 2011.