Solar energy has the power to reduce greenhouse gases and provide increased energy efficiency, says a scientist at the U.S. Department of Energy's Argonne National Laboratory, in a report (view it online) published in the March issue of Physics Today.
Last month, The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) of the United Nations released a report confirming global warming is upon us and attributing the growing threat to the man-made burning of fossil fuels.
Opportunities to increase solar energy conversion as an alternative to fossil fuels are addressed in the Physics Today article, co-authored by George Crabtree, senior scientist and director of Argonne's Materials Science Division, and Nathan Lewis, professor of Chemistry at Caltech and director of its Molecular Materials Research Center.
Currently, between 80 percent and 85 percent of our energy comes from fossil fuels. However, fossil fuel resources are of finite extent and are distributed unevenly beneath Earth's surface. When fossil fuel is turned into useful energy through combustion, it often produces environmental pollutants that are harmful to human health and greenhouse gases that threaten the global climate. In contrast, solar resources are widely available and have a benign effect on the environment and climate, making it an appealing alternative energy source.
"Sunlight is not only the most plentiful energy resource on earth, it is also one of the most versatile, converting readily to electricity, fuel and heat," said Crabtree. "The challenge is to raise its conversion efficiency by factors of five or ten. That requires understanding the fundamental conversion phenomena at the nanoscale. We are just scratching the surface of this rich research field."
Argonne carries out forefront basic research on all three solar conversion routes. The laboratory is creating next-generation nanostructured solar cells using sophisticated atomic layer deposit
Contact: Sylvia Carson
DOE/Argonne National Laboratory