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      Powering the planet: chemical challenges in solar energy utilization.

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          Abstract

          Global energy consumption is projected to increase, even in the face of substantial declines in energy intensity, at least 2-fold by midcentury relative to the present because of population and economic growth. This demand could be met, in principle, from fossil energy resources, particularly coal. However, the cumulative nature of CO(2) emissions in the atmosphere demands that holding atmospheric CO(2) levels to even twice their preanthropogenic values by midcentury will require invention, development, and deployment of schemes for carbon-neutral energy production on a scale commensurate with, or larger than, the entire present-day energy supply from all sources combined. Among renewable energy resources, solar energy is by far the largest exploitable resource, providing more energy in 1 hour to the earth than all of the energy consumed by humans in an entire year. In view of the intermittency of insolation, if solar energy is to be a major primary energy source, it must be stored and dispatched on demand to the end user. An especially attractive approach is to store solar-converted energy in the form of chemical bonds, i.e., in a photosynthetic process at a year-round average efficiency significantly higher than current plants or algae, to reduce land-area requirements. Scientific challenges involved with this process include schemes to capture and convert solar energy and then store the energy in the form of chemical bonds, producing oxygen from water and a reduced fuel such as hydrogen, methane, methanol, or other hydrocarbon species.

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          Author and article information

          Journal
          Proc Natl Acad Sci U S A
          Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America
          Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences
          0027-8424
          0027-8424
          Oct 24 2006
          : 103
          : 43
          Affiliations
          [1 ] Division of Chemistry and Chemical Engineering, California Institute of Technology, Pasadena, CA 91125, USA. nslewis@caltech.edu
          Article
          0603395103
          10.1073/pnas.0603395103
          1635072
          17043226
          157f710c-7911-41b0-9b93-349535b00d2a
          History

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