JCAP is pioneering revolutionary methods of synthesizing transportation fuels simply by combining three of Earth’s most abundant resources: carbon dioxide, water, and sunlight.
The goal is to generate liquid hydrocarbon or alcohol fuel products whose heating value equals or exceeds that of methanol, using selective and efficient chemical pathways.
Achieving a Technological Breakthrough
Any technological breakthrough of this sort requires multiple simultaneous advances in mechanisms, materials, and components—from novel catalysts and protection coatings to concepts for self-sustaining integrated systems—and JCAP, under its five-year renewal project, will continue to act as a hub for accelerated discovery and integration of these developments.
The project’s first two years will focus on an accelerated campaign of discovery and development, while years three to five will see a ramped-up emphasis on the integration of JCAP’s materials, catalytic mechanisms, and testbeds with advances made by JCAP, in close consultation and collaboration with the broader scientific community and industry.
The grand challenge at the heart of solar fuels production is controlled catalysis. Over the last five years, JCAP made significant advances in solar-driven catalytic production of hydrogen from water—but as yet there remains no known catalyst, whether electrochemical or photoelectrochemical, that can reduce carbon dioxide with high efficiency and selectivity under mild conditions.
The Four Thrusts
To tackle CO2 reduction, JCAP’s efforts are aligned along four fronts: experimental and theoretical discovery of fundamental electrocatalysis mechanisms and materials, experimental and theoretical discovery of photocatalysts and light absorbers, systems integration (combining catalysts for water oxidation and CO2 reduction, light absorbers, electrolytes, and protection layers), and testbed prototyping (including numerical modeling and development of advanced analytical methods for product characterization).
As is appropriate for such a high-risk, high-reward research and development program, success metrics include publication of peer-reviewed papers, IP disclosures, research presentations at professional meetings, and establishment of productive partnerships with other solar fuels researchers and industry.
Project objectives are evaluated via technical milestone reviews, annual scientific reviews, benchmarking against the state of the art, and input from industrial partners and an external strategic and science advisory board.
What is JCAP?
JCAP is an integrated university-DOE Laboratory project and draws on the resources of the California Institute of Technology (Caltech), Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory (LBNL), Stanford Linear Accelerator Laboratory (SLAC), and the Universities of California at San Diego and Irvine. Led by Caltech, Hub’s world-class team of highly distinguished scientists operates under an experienced management team that is empowered to respond to emerging opportunities and needs.
A 30,000 s.f. research facility at Caltech (opened in 2012) provides laboratories dedicated to high-throughput experimentation, surface science, optical measurements, directed materials research, and benchmarking, while LBNL’s 40,000 s.f. Solar Energy Research Facility (opened in 2015) includes laboratories for light absorber and materials integration research, membrane synthesis and characterization, as well as prototype fabrication.
JCAP’s transformational advances in renewable solar fuels generation involve close collaboration with DOE User Facilities, key Energy Frontier Research Centers, and major multinational industry partners.