Turning Sunlight into Fuel
In one hour, the Earth receives enough energy from the sun to meet all of mankind’s energy needs for one year. Yet the world uses little more than one percent of the sun’s energy for our electricity needs. A major obstacle to being able to tap into the full potential of solar energy is that it is intermittent—we cannot get a steady supply of solar energy because the sun doesn’t always shine.
In order for renewable energy to take hold on the scale necessary to help combat climate change, an efficient and economical way to store the sun’s energy is needed for times when the sun doesn’t shine. But even when that technology becomes available, we will still need to find a way to use renewable energy to power the transportation sector, one of the largest sources of greenhouse gas emissions.
According to Nate Lewis, founding director of the Joint Center for Artificial Photosynthesis, “All of the studies of a clean energy system I’ve ever seen identify the same two technology gaps. Massive grid-scale energy storage to compensate for the intermittency of wind and solar power, and an energy-dense, carbon-neutral liquid transportation fuel.” A great deal of research is being aimed at developing better batteries to store energy. But it is “solar fuels” that could potentially store, transport and use solar energy to produce electricity and replace fossil fuels in vehicles.
Continue reading at Columbia University Earth Institute.
Image credit: NASA