DOE outlines research needed to improve solar energy technologies
The Department of Energy's Office of Science has released a report describing the basic research needed to produce "revolutionary progress in bringing solar energy to its full potential in the energy marketplace." The report resulted from a workshop of 200 scientists held earlier this year.
The report notes that progress in the proposed research could lead to: artificial "molecular machines" that turn sunlight into chemical fuel; "smart materials" based on nature's ability to transfer captured solar energy with no energy loss; self-repairing solar conversion systems; devices that absorb all the colors in the solar spectrum for energy conversion, not just a fraction; far more efficient solar cells created using nanotechnologies; and new materials for high-capacity, slow-release thermal storage.
The report further notes that revolutionary breakthroughs come only from basic research and that, "We must understand the fundamental principles of solar energy conversion and develop new materials that exploit them."
They identified 13 priority research directions with the "potential to produce revolutionary, not evolutionary, breakthroughs in materials and processes for solar energy utilization." Cross-cutting research directions include: coaxing cheap materials to perform as well as expensive materials; developing new solar cell designs that surpass traditional efficiency limits; finding catalysts that enable inexpensive, efficient conversion of solar energy into chemical fuels; and developing materials for solar energy conversion infrastructure, such as transparent conductors and robust, inexpensive thermal management materials.