SAN JOSE, Calif. – The U.S. Department of Energy will give a group of California researchers a five-year grant valued at $122 million to work on technologies to create fuels from sunlight. Kristina Johnson, Under Secretary for DoE, announced the award at a San Jose conference where she shared her call to action for the electronics industry and her experience moving from entrepreneurial electronics engineer to regulator in a video here.
The California Institute of Technology will lead the Joint Center for Artificial Photosynthesis (JCAP) in a partnership with Lawrence Berkeley National Lab. Other organizations participating in the center include Stanford and the Universities of California at Berkeley, Irvine, San Diego and Santa Barbara.
JCAP aims to drive solar fuels from basic to applied research suitable for technology investment. The hub will seek to develop light absorbers, catalysts, molecular linkers and separation membranes and integrate them into a system that can be made for commercial use.
The center is the latest of three research hubs to be funded by DoE in 2010, this one focused on developing a system to convert solar energy to chemical fuel. An existing hub is working on new nuclear reactors and DoE has yet to announce one other hub it will fund this year.
In a keynote address at the Cleantech Open Conference here, Johnson said the DoE will announce later this summer an investment in a center for conserving energy in buildings, the focus of as much as 40 percent of all energy consumption.
In addition, Johnson talked about funding under a new phase three of the Small Business Innovation Research program. The so-called Xlerator program will consist of as many as 30 awards of $250,000 to $3 million, geared to give clean tech companies staying power as they work to bring innovations to the market.
As a founder of two startups, including liquid-crystal-on-silicon company DisplayTech, Johnson said she knows first-hand the difficulties marshalling an idea to market. "We got our fundamental patent in about 1995 but didn't have our first big market break until about 2002," said Johnson who holds a PhD in electrical engineering from Stanford.
Researchers are pursuing basic scientific discoveries in alternative energy technologies on several fronts, Johnson said. "We have the next decade to focus on fundamental discoveries and take them to the market--this will be a 30 year process," she said.
The DoE's goals are to foster a new clean tech economy, secure energy sources for the country and help protect the planet, she said.
With the looming threat of climate change "we have a sense of urgency like we've never had before," Johnson said. "We are trying to protect that thin blue eggshell of our atmosphere from getting fragile and what a great thing to do every day," she said.