WASHINGTON, D.C. -- To help achieve the Bush Administration's goal ofincreased use of solar and other renewable forms of energy, theDepartment of Energy's (DOE) Office of Science has released a reportdescribing the basic research needed to produce "revolutionary progressin bringing solar energy to its full potential in the energymarketplace." The report resulted from a workshop of 200 scientistsheld earlier this year.
"The tax credits contained in the historic energy bill signed byPresident Bush will greatly help expand the use of renewable energy,"said Dr. Raymond L. Orbach, Director of DOE's Office of Science. "Thisresearch will help improve a critical component of renewable energy,solar technology, in the future. Increasing the use of renewable energyis a clear way to help meet our growing energy needs usingenvironmentally-friendly power sources."
"This report demonstrates the important contribution the entirescientific community can make to the development of new sustainableenergy resources," Orbach said. "Science and basic research can andmust play a key role in addressing the energy security needs of ournation."
Every hour more energy from sunlight strikes the Earth than isconsumed on the planet in a year. Yet today, solar electricity providesonly approximately one thousandth of the total electricity supply. Thereport notes that a "huge gap between our present use of solar energyand its enormous undeveloped potential defines a grand challenge inenergy research" and that "sunlight is a compelling solution to ourneed for clean, abundant sources of energy in the future."
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 solarenergy with no energy loss; self-repairing solar conversion systems;devices that absorb all the colors in the solar spectrum for energyconversion, not just a fraction; far more efficient solar cells createdusing nanotechnologies; and new materials for high-capacity,slow-release thermal storage.
The report further notes that revolutionary breakthroughs come onlyfrom basic research and that, "We must understand the fundamentalprinciples of solar energy conversion and develop new materials thatexploit them."
Solar energy conversion systems fall into three categories: solarelectricity, solar fuels and solar thermal systems. Workshopparticipants considered the potential of all three approaches. Theyidentified 13 priority research directions with the "potential toproduce revolutionary, not evolutionary, breakthroughs in materials andprocesses for solar energy utilization." Cross-cutting researchdirections include: coaxing cheap materials to perform as well asexpensive materials; developing new solar cell designs that surpasstraditional efficiency limits; finding catalysts that enableinexpensive, efficient conversion of solar energy into chemical fuels;and developing materials for solar energy conversion infrastructure,such as transparent conductors and robust, inexpensive thermalmanagement materials.
The Office of Basic Energy Sciences in DOE's Office of Scienceorganized the 2005 workshop on solar energy research needs. Two hundredscientists from the U.S., Europe and Asia examined the challenges todeveloping solar energy as a competitive energy source and identifiedthe basic research directions that show promise to overcome thesechallenges. The workshop was the second in a series following the 2002Basic Energy Sciences Advisory Committee study "Basic Research Needs toAssure a Secure Energy Future." The first workshop examined basicresearch needs for the hydrogen economy.
The Basic Research Needs for Solar Energy Utilization report can be viewed and downloaded at: www.sc.doe.gov/bes/reports/files/SEU_rpt.pdf Hard copies of the report are available upon request from the Office of Basic Energy Sciences at www.sc.doe.gov/bes.
Materials provided by U.S. Department of Energy. Note: Content may be edited for style and length.
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