The US Department of Energy recently announced a five-year, $122 million grant to establish a new research facility in California with the goal of developing artificial photosynthesis. The Joint Center for Artificial Photosynthesis (JCAP) will seek to develop methods to create fuels directly from sunlight, water, and carbon dioxide. Key targets for this research will be catalysts and light absorbing materials needed in order to break down water and carbon dioxide in order to directly create usable fuels such as hydrogen, methanol, and methane.
Other technologies, such as algae biofuels retain the use of natural organisms in the process, and require refinement of the fuel, which makes them expensive. With artificial photosynthesis, the goal is to have the direct production of a usable fuel that requires little, if any, further processing.
Basic research in this field has already been carried out, but this new facility will expand on that knowledge and move toward larger scale implementations with commercial potential. The new research center will be operated by a group of research universities in California led by the California Institute of Technology along with Lawrence Berkeley National Lab, Stanford, and the Universities of California at Berkeley, Irvine, San Diego and Santa Barbara. The DOE grant will provide $22 million in the first year and $25 million for each of the remaining four years of the five-year grant to support these research programs.