Artificial Photosynthesis / Alternative Energy Sources
Elena Galoppini, Rutgers University

Projections indicate that the world demand for energy, currently at about 13 trillion watts (13 terawatts, TW) per year will double by 2050 and triple by 2100. Eighty-five percent of energy sources are currently carbon-based. These are fossil fuels: natural gas, coal, and oil. Reliable estimates suggest that, at the 1998 level of use, oil reserves will be depleted by the next 50 years, two centuries will pass before natural gas is finished and there are about two millennia worth of coal. This creates the impression that the scientific community has decades for developing renewable energy sources. Instead, the environmental disaster of the greenhouse gas (carbon dioxide) and the pollution that are associated with fossil fuels utilization, geopolitical matters, the risks of nuclear power plants and the increasing energy demand, have created an urgent need for “clean” energy sources that is unprecedented in history. As of 2005, renewable energy sources make only 6% of the current energy consumption and include biomass, hydroelectric power, wind, geothermal, and solar. Simple calculations show that a single energy source cannot solve this problem and multiple solutions are needed.

A very promising renewable energy source is the Sun. This star emits an enormous amount of energy: the surface of our planet receives from the Sun in one hour more energy that is consumed in one year. Yet, this source is little exploited. In 2001 solar provided less than 0.1% of the world electricity.

This symposium will illustrate two aspects of worldwide research aimed to exploit sunlight as a source for clean energy: artificial photosynthesis (high-energy molecules, such as hydrogen, from sunlight) and photovoltaics (electricity from sunlight). The talks will explain the challenges facing the scientific community, the most up-to-date solutions and innovative ideas in both fields.

1. The Department of Energy Technical Reports “ Basic Research Needs for Solar Energy Utilization” April 18–21, 2005

2. Data from EIA

3. Science, 22 July 2005, vol. 309, pp. 548-550.

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