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UCI, others net $122 million for solar fuels research

The team of California universities will form an Energy Innovation Hub.

By Kristen SchottPublished: July 28, 2010 10:04 AM

A team of California universities – including UC Irvine – has garnered a $122 million, five-year grant from the U.S. Department of Energy to form a consortium to find new ways to generate fuels from sunlight.

The Fuels from Sunlight Energy Innovation Hub will be led by the California Institute of Technology, in partnership with UCI, UC Santa Barbara, UC San Diego, the U.S. Department of Energy's Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory and the SLAC National Accelerator Laboratory at Stanford University.

The project seeks to recreate photosynthesis for energy production, with the goal of moving the solar fuels field from fundamental research into practical technology development.

John Hemminger, dean of the School of Physical Science at UCI, is currently the only researcher from the local university on the team. However, other UCI scientists, postdoctoral fellows and graduate students will join the program at a later date.

Hemminger called the hub a "major science win" for the state.

The team will research components that are necessary for a complete artificial system, such as catalysts and light absorbers. Then, they will incorporate these elements into a solar-fuel system and develop strategies for commercial applications.

“Finding a cost-effective way to produce fuels as plants do – combining sunlight, water and carbon dioxide – would be a game changer, reducing our dependence on oil and enhancing energy security," said U.S. Deputy Secretary of Energy Daniel Poneman. "This Energy Innovation Hub will enable our scientists to combine their talents to tackle this bold and highly promising challenge.”

The hub is among three across the nation that will be formed this year. In May, the Department of Energy announced that a team led by Oak Ridge National Laboratory in Tennessee will form a center to model and simulate nuclear reactors.

The third hub has not been announced.

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