DOE Outlines Research to Improve Solar Energy Technologies

August 14, 2005 by Jeff Shepard

The Office of Science of the US Department of Energy (DOE, Washington, DC) 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 tax credits contained in the historic energy bill signed by President Bush will greatly help expand the use of renewable energy," said DOE Office of Science Director Raymond Orbach. "This research will help improve a critical component of renewable energy, solar technology, in the future. Increasing the use of renewable energy is a clear way to help meet our growing energy needs using environmentally friendly power sources."

The report notes that a "huge gap between our present use of solar energy and its enormous undeveloped potential defines a grand challenge in energy research" and that "sunlight is a compelling solution to our need for clean, abundant sources of energy in the future." The report also 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; more efficient solar cells using nanotechnologies; and new materials for high-capacity, slow-release thermal storage.