Sustainable energy:
The most important scientific challenge we face today

It’s not going to be easy, and it’s not going to happen overnight, but at least some of the solutions to one of humanity’s greatest problems may be found at Berkeley Lab. Somewhere among the Lab’s collaborative blend of biologists, chemists, materials scientists, physicists, and computer scientists could lie a way to obtain a sustainable, CO2-neutral source of energy.

“This is the most important scientific challenge we face today,” said Lab Director Steve Chu, speaking at a two-day meeting held at Berkeley Lab in March 2005. The meeting was convened to map the challenges that must be overcome to efficiently convert solar energy into fuel or electricity. Deputy Director Graham Fleming, an international authority on ultrafast processes, including photosynthesis, organized the meeting, which drew several dozen scientists from across the Lab and other institutions.

“If we can make solar energy an organic part of our thinking at the Lab,” Chu said, “we can come up with broad, coordinated solutions to the energy problem. Scale is crucial to our success.”

A harrowing list of statistics underscores the need to quickly wean the world from fossil fuels. Pre-industrial concentration of atmospheric CO2, a greenhouse gas, was 280 parts per million. Today, it’s 370 parts per million. Energy production and use account for 80 percent of greenhouse gas emissions. And, if that were not enough, world production of oil and gas is predicted to peak within 10 to 40 years. Although energy conservation and efficiency can buy some time, fossil fuels won’t last forever. The clock is ticking.

Now available:
Workshop Summary (.pdf)

In the news:
Director Chu Touts Alternate Energy Sources in SF Chronicle Op-Ed

Director Chu's Fuel Alternative
Featured on
ABC News

Solar-to-Fuel: Catalyzing the Science
A report from Science@Berkeley Lab (By Paul Preuss)

LBNL Solar-to-Fuel Workshop
March 28 and 29, 2005

In April 2005, DOE/BES held a national workshop on basic research needs for solar energy use. To prepare LBNL with a focused strategy for this workshop, Lab director Steve Chu convened a 1½ day meeting to define our goals and determine areas where the Lab has a leading edge and is likely to make contributions that cannot be equaled elsewhere. The workshop focused on the challenge of achieving a carbon-neutral energy solution through the conversion of solar energy into chemical fuel. This conversion may be through a sequence of solar to electrical to chemical storage or through a direct solar to chemical path.

List of participants: click here

Agenda and presentations

Please note: Access to these presentations is currently limited to the Berkeley Lab and UC Berkeley communities. We welcome the interest of others, but we ask that you please contact the speakers directly for permission to access their talks. This helps us insure that embargoed or otherwise sensitive information is not released.

Monday, March 28

Plenary Session

Director Steven Chu
schu (at)
Sustainable, CO2 neutral energy (.ppt, 3.6MB)

Daniel Kammen, UC Berkeley's Goldman School of Public Policy
kammen (at)
Strategies for a sustainable, CO2 neutral energy economy (.ppt, 9.1MB)

Mark Levine, Berkeley Lab
mdlevine (at)
Issues in the Transition to a CO2-Neutral Economy (.ppt, 4.8MB)

Art Nozik, National Renewable Energy Laboratory
Arthur_Nozik (at)
Efficiency of solar photon conversion to fuels and electricity

Tom Moore, Arizona State University
Tom.Moore (at)
Biomimetic approaches, and role of biological processes as paradigms for solar to fuel conversion

Synthetic biology: Engineered organisms for solar to chemical
Co-chairs: Paul Ludden, Kris Niyogi

Tad Patzek, UC Berkeley
twpatzek (at)
Thermodynamics of industrial biofuels (.pdf, 1.5MB)

Jay Keasling, Berkeley Lab
jdkeasling (at)
Synthetic biology in the quest for renewable energy (.ppt, 2.0MB)

Engineered systems: Hybrid nanomaterials and biomimetic systems for solar to fuel conversion
Chair: Chris Chang

Chris Chang
cjchang (at)
Biomimetic systems for solar to fuel conversion (.ppt, 0.3MB)

Jean Fréchet
frechet (at)
Early studies: from organic light harvesting assemblies to light powered nanoreactors (.ppt, 3.3 MB)

Graham Fleming
grfleming (at)
The Architecture of Photosynthesis (.ppt, 7.7MB)

Nanomaterials and nanostructured assemblies for photochemical conversion (solar to electric or solar to fuel)
Co-chairs: Paul Alivisatos, Peidong Yang

Peidong Yang
pdyang (at)
Nanostructure needs for solar to fuel conversion (presentation embargoed)

Wladek Walukiewicz
w_walukiewicz (at)
Future prospects of semiconductor materials for solar and photoelectrochemical cells (.ppt, 2.3MB)

Heinz Frei
hmfrei (at)
What nanoporous supports do we need for solar light-driven fuel synthesis? (.ppt, 0.5MB)

Photoelectrochemistry, Electric to Fuel
Chair: Charles Harris
harris (at)
Photoelectrochemistry summary (.ppt, 0.2MB)

Tuesday, March 29

Carlos Bustamante
carlos (at)
Synthetic Approaches to Solar Energy (coming soon)

Antón Vila-Sanjurjo
avila (at)
Designing an organism that uses light energy for the production of EtOH (.ppt, 17MB)