Liquid Fuel, From the Sun

The future of solar energy could be a liquid fuel you put into your gas tank. The New Yorker just published an article I wrote about an incredible lab where scientists making that dream real. They're building the prototype for a device that could convert water, sunlight and carbon into tomorrow's gasoline.

Here's how the article starts:

“This is our artificial sun,” Joel Ager said, as he gestured with mock grandeur toward a metal box about the size of an old computer tower. A glowing lens, which looked like it was transplanted from a projector, shined out of a hole in its side. It was aimed at a beaker filled with water sitting a few inches away. Ager’s colleague produced a metallic toothpick-sized stick, alligator-clipped it to electrodes, and dunked it. Under the light, the submerged stick became a luminous red. “Wait for it,” Agar said. After a few seconds the red material began to emit bubbles of oxygen, slowly silvering over with tiny spheres.

The red stick was a piece of what could one day be the heart of a solar fuel generator that converts water, light, and atmospheric carbon into liquid fuel, with oxygen as its only byproduct.


What I saw was one small moment in the birth of artificial photosynthesis. For me, the highlight of writing this article was telling the story of the Joint Center for Artificial Photosynthesis at UC Berkeley, where researchers are using nanofabrication machines and 3D printers to do rapid prototyping of this revolutionary device.

Read the whole article over at the New Yorker.

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