- Number 321 |
- September 27, 2010
SLAC launches energy initiative
A DOE's SLAC National Accelerator Laboratory has launched a new initiative, the Center for Sustainable Energy through Catalysis, or SUN-CAT, to benefit alternative energy technologies ranging from batteries to biofuels.
The center will focus on creating catalysts for use in alternative energy industries. Catalysts, materials that can affect chemical reactions without themselves being changed, are already widely exploited in industrial chemistry, but most catalysts now in use are far from perfect. Some are not efficient, while others include rare elements, and are thus expensive. Some, such as platinum (used to split water into hydrogen and oxygen for fuel cells), are both.
Led by Jens Nørskov, the SUN-CAT team seeks to gain a clear and comprehensive understanding of catalytic processes so they can develop a theoretical basis for the design of new and better catalysts "basically going from quantum mechanics to designing a new material," Nørskov said.
One new class of materials Nørskov and his crew want to design would help capture the energy of the sun and store it in a form usable as fuel. In fact, SUN-CAT is part of the Joint Center for Artificial Photosynthesis, a new Energy Innovation Hub created by the Department of Energy to do just that. The key to artificial photosynthesis is an energy-efficient way to "reduce" carbon dioxide, in other words, strip the oxygen off the molecule, in order to combine the carbon with hydrogen to make the fuels we burn.
Artificial photosynthesis is only one process that requires catalysts, though. Researchers at SUN-CAT will also consider other alternative energy technologies that could benefit, including biofuels and batteries."If we want to make sustainable energy choices, we need catalysis," Nørskov said. "I would like us to develop a good enough understanding of these phenomena to contribute a little bit. I'm not saying we'll solve it, but putting one brick in this wall would be good."
[Melinda Lee, 650.926.8547,