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Photovoltaics / Solar Fuels

As one of the most abundant and widespread energy resources available, sunlight is very attractive as a renewable energy source that could be the pillar of a sustainable energy future. In the last several decades, decreasing costs of photovoltaic technology have helped spur the spread of solar electricity. However, at present solar energy remains a minor player in the global energy landscape. Even if a revolution in the manufacture of photovoltaics successfully reduces the cost of solar electricity to a level that is economically competitive with fossil fuels, the widespread implementation of solar as a primary energy source will require the ability to overcome the intermittency of sunlight.

In order to have energy from the sun at night, a cost-effective storage mechanism is needed. Battery systems are generally too expensive for large scale deployment, and mechanical storage methods, such as pumping water uphill, require enormous reservoirs in favorable locations. An ideal solution would be to store solar energy in the form of chemical bonds – to convert sunlight into energy-dense fuels. Nature utilizes this approach through the mechanism of photosynthesis. However, the energy conversion and storage efficiency of even the most rapidly growing plant is less than 0.5%. By pursuing artificial photosynthesis, the combination of light absorbing semiconductors and highly active catalysts in an inorganic photoelectrolysis system, cost-effective fuel production at higher efficiency is possible.

The Conn Center is striving to develop new and promising approaches in the field of solar fuels. This effort includes the study of novel photoactive semiconductors and surface preparations to make efficient photoelectrodes for fully integrated solar water-splitting systems. The center is also researching the design of electrolyzers to reduce carbon dioxide into useful hydrocarbon fuels efficiently and with high yield. New photovoltaic technologies specifically designed to drive a desirable electrolysis reaction are under investigation as well. Each of these research thrusts is dedicated to lowering the ultimate cost of solar fuels production.

Solar Fuels Contact

Joshua Spurgeon, PhD
Theme Leader for Photovoltaics/Solar Fuels
Conn Center for Renewable Energy Research
University of Louisville
Louisville, KY 40292
Ernst Hall 311
Email Dr. Spurgeon