U.S. Energy Department Announces $168 Million for Solar Fuels, Bioenergy Research

The U.S. Energy Department on July 29 awarded $100 million for two multi-institutional research initiatives focused on producing fuels from sunlight under a five-year program. The agency also announced another $68 million over the same duration for projects aimed at supporting sustainable bioenergy production.

The multi-institutional partnerships under the Fuels from Sunlight Energy Innovation Hub will focus on advancing artificial photosynthesis to generate usable fuels directly from sunlight. The efforts will build on the accomplishments of Joint Center for Artificial Photosynthesis, Energy Frontier Research Centers, and the agency’s core research initiatives:

  • The Liquid Sunlight Alliance is examining an approach called “co-design,” addressing the many complex steps in the conversion of sunlight to fuels, so that the process works “more efficiently both individually and in concert with each other.”
  • The Center for Hybrid Approaches in Solar Energy to Liquid Fuels is focused on developing hybrid photoelectrodes, which combine semiconductors that absorb sunlight with molecular catalysts for conversion and fuel production.

The bioenergy program  will concentrate on the primary, ubiquitous bioenergy feedstocks including sorghum, pennycress, and poplar. Technological advancements in understanding how these crops interact with soil microbes and other vegetation can enable scientists to improve productivity and resistance to external stress. These studies are planned to rely on a hybrid model of controlled field studies and computational modelling. The grant is the result of the DOE’s “Funding Opportunity Announcement for Systems Biology Research to Advance Sustainable Bioenergy Crop Development,” initiated earlier this year.