“Solar can potentially provide all the electricity and fuel we need to power the planet,” Harry Gray, Ph.D., scheduled to speak here today at the 235th national meeting of the American Chemical Society (ACS).
His presentation, “Powering the Planet with Solar Energy,” is part of a special symposium arranged by Bruce Bursten, Ph.D., president of the ACS, the world’s largest scientific society celebrating the 10th anniversary of the Beckman Scholars Program.
“The Holy Grail of solar research is to use sunlight efficiently and directly to “split” water into its elemental constituents – hydrogen and oxygen – and then use the hydrogen as a clean fuel,” Gray said.
Gray is the Arnold O. Beckman Professor of Chemistry and Founding Director of the Beckman Institute at the California Institute of Technology. He is the principal investigator in an NSF funded Phase I Chemical Bonding Center (CBC) – a Caltech/MIT collaboration – and a principal investigator at the Caltech Center for Sustainable Energy Research (CCSER).
This research has the goal of transforming the industrialized world from one powered by fossil fuels to one powered by sunlight. The CBC research focuses on converting sunlight to chemical fuels while research in the CCSER focuses on generating electricity from sunlight and developing fuel cells.
In his talk at the ACS Presidential Symposium, Gray cited the vast potential of solar energy, noting that more energy from sunlight strikes the Earth in one hour than all of the energy consumed on the planet in one year.
The single biggest challenge, Gray said, is reducing costs so that a large-scale shift away from coal, natural gas and other non-renewable sources of electricity makes economic sense. Gray estimated the average cost of photovoltaic energy at 35 to 50 cents per kilowatt-hour. By comparison, other sources are considerably less expensive, with coal and natural gas hovering around 5-6 cents per kilowatt-hour.
Because of its other advantages – being clean and renewable, for instance – solar energy need not match the cost of conventional energy sources, Gray indicated. The breakthrough for solar energy probably will come when scientists reduce the costs of photovoltaic energy to about 10 cents per kilowatt-hour, he added. “Once it reaches that level, large numbers of consumers will start to buy in, driving the per-kilowatt price down even further. I believe we are at least ten years away from photovoltaics being competitive with more traditional forms of energy.”
Major challenges include developing cheap solar cells that work without deterioration and reducing the amounts of toxic materials used in the manufacture of these cells. But producing low cost photovoltaics is only a step in the right direction. Chemists also need to focus on the generation of clean fuels at costs that can compete with oil and coal.
Gray emphasized this point: “The pressure is on chemists to make hydrogen from something other than natural gas or coal. We’ve got to start making it from sunlight and water.”
Gray noted that the NSF CBC program currently includes Caltech and MIT, but would expand in a second phase to include several additional institutions.
A number of other presentations in the Presidential Sessions during the ACS meeting will focus on future sources of energy. Among them are:
Alan Heeger, Ph.D., of the University of California, Santa Barbara, who shared the 2000 Nobel Prize in Chemistry for his work on conductive polymers, will give a progress report on the performance of “plastic” solar cells.
Paul Alivisatos, Ph.D., of the University of California at Berkeley and co-editor of the ACS journal Nano Letters, will describe potential advantages of future solar cells using nanoscale materials, and address some of difficulties that need to be overcome.
Raymond Orbach, Ph.D., a noted researcher in theoretical and experimental physics who directs the U. S. Department of Energy’s Office of Science. Topic: “Assuring a Secure Energy Future.”
Nathan S. Lewis, George L. Argyros Professor Chemistry, Division of Chemistry and Chemical Engineering, California Institute of Technology. Topic: “Solar Energy Utilization.”
James B. Roberto, Deputy Director for Science and Technology, Oak Ridge National Laboratory, Oak Ridge National Laboratory. Topic: “Advanced Nuclear Energy Systems.”
Mildred S. Dresselhaus, Institute Professor of Physics & Electrical Engineering, Massachusetts Institute of Technology. Topic: “Hydrogen Economy.”
Héctor D. Abruña, Emile M. Chamot Professor and Chair, Department of Chemistry and Chemical Biology, Cornell University. Topic: “Electrical Energy Storage.”
Bruce C. Gates, Distinguished Professor, Department of Chemical Engineering and Materials Science, University of California-Davis. Topic: “Catalysis for Transportation Fuels.”
Charmayne Marsh | EurekAlert!
Failures in power grids: Dynamically induced cascades
25.05.2018 | Technische Universität Dresden
Beyond the limits of conventional electronics: stable organic molecular nanowires
24.05.2018 | Tokyo Institute of Technology
The more electronics steer, accelerate and brake cars, the more important it is to protect them against cyber-attacks. That is why 15 partners from industry and academia will work together over the next three years on new approaches to IT security in self-driving cars. The joint project goes by the name Security For Connected, Autonomous Cars (SecForCARs) and has funding of €7.2 million from the German Federal Ministry of Education and Research. Infineon is leading the project.
Vehicles already offer diverse communication interfaces and more and more automated functions, such as distance and lane-keeping assist systems. At the same...
A research team led by physicists at the Technical University of Munich (TUM) has developed molecular nanoswitches that can be toggled between two structurally different states using an applied voltage. They can serve as the basis for a pioneering class of devices that could replace silicon-based components with organic molecules.
The development of new electronic technologies drives the incessant reduction of functional component sizes. In the context of an international collaborative...
At the LASYS 2018, from June 5th to 7th, the Laser Zentrum Hannover e.V. (LZH) will be showcasing processes for the laser material processing of tomorrow in hall 4 at stand 4E75. With blown bomb shells the LZH will present first results of a research project on civil security.
At this year's LASYS, the LZH will exhibit light-based processes such as cutting, welding, ablation and structuring as well as additive manufacturing for...
There are videos on the internet that can make one marvel at technology. For example, a smartphone is casually bent around the arm or a thin-film display is rolled in all directions and with almost every diameter. From the user's point of view, this looks fantastic. From a professional point of view, however, the question arises: Is that already possible?
At Display Week 2018, scientists from the Fraunhofer Institute for Applied Polymer Research IAP will be demonstrating today’s technological possibilities and...
So-called quantum many-body scars allow quantum systems to stay out of equilibrium much longer, explaining experiment | Study published in Nature Physics
Recently, researchers from Harvard and MIT succeeded in trapping a record 53 atoms and individually controlling their quantum state, realizing what is called a...
25.05.2018 | Event News
02.05.2018 | Event News
13.04.2018 | Event News
25.05.2018 | Event News
25.05.2018 | Machine Engineering
25.05.2018 | Life Sciences