Who Makes Fuels from Sunlight?

Research Groups and Centers

The Lewis Group

The Lewis Group at Caltech.

The Lewis Group at Caltech.

The Lewis Group is developing solar fuels technologies based on radically new designs to enable the cost-competitive production of solar fuels at global scale.  We are leaders in research encompassing all aspects of abiotic solar fuels technologies:

  1. Discovering and developing inexpensive semiconductors and catalysts;
  2. Protecting components against degradation under corrosive conditions;
  3. Building high-efficiency components from inexpensive materials;
  4. Integrating materials and components into devices;
  5. Creating new designs for systems and modeling their performance;
  6. Analyzing the potential of various approaches to solar fuels technologies to enable their viability in a competitive energy market.

The Joint Center for Artificial Photosynthesis (JCAP)jcap_logo

JCAP is an Energy Innovation Hub supported through the Office of Science of the U. S. Department of Energy.  JCAP was established in 2010 under the leadership of Professor Nate Lewis at Caltech, and is a partnership between Caltech, Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory, Stanford University, and the University of California at Irvine.  The original mission of JCAP was to find a cost-effective way to produce fuels from sunlight ten times more efficiently than plants.  Since 2015, the JCAP mission has focused on producing fuels from carbon dioxide, specifically on the discovery of new non-molecular and non-biological catalysts that make carbon-containing fuels from carbon dioxide, water, and light or electricity.  Professor Nate Lewis is one of the Principal Investigators for JCAP, and Lewis Group members are key contributors to the JCAP effort.

The Center for Sustainable Energy Research at Caltechgbmf_logo

The Center for Sustainable Energy Research (CSER) at Caltech was launched in 2006 and is supported by the Gordon and Betty Moore Foundation.  The goal of CSER is to develop technologies that will transform our fossil-fuel-powered world to a world powered by sunlight.  Professor Nate Lewis is a Principal Investigator for CSER, as are Professors Harry Atwater, Harry Gray, and Jonas Peters.  CSER considers all types of fuels from sunlight, including hydrogen and carbon-containing fuels.

The Center for Chemical Innovation in Solar Fuels (CCI Solar)nsf_logo

CCI Solar is funded by the National Science Foundation and targets the science behind making hydrogen fuel from water and sunlight.  Research supported by CCI includes, but is not limited to, the development of new semiconductors and non-biological molecular catalysts for the water-splitting reactions.  CCI Solar is an interdisciplinary collaboration involving researchers from many academic institutions, including – but not limited to – Caltech, Pennsylvania State University, the University of Puerto Rico, the University of Wyoming, the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, the University of Chicago, and the University of Texas at El Paso.  CCI Solar leads a number of outreach programs, including the Solar Army led by Professor Harry Gray at Caltech.

Professor Nate Lewis collaborates with the CCI Solar team, and Lewis Group members contribute to the CCI Solar project.

The Resnick Sustainability Institute at Caltechresnick_logo

The Resnick Sustainability Institute supports research in energy science and technology, and promotes education and communication.  The Resnick Sustainability Institute runs a competitive fellowship program which supports a number of graduate students and postdoctoral scholars working on making fuels from sunlight at Caltech.  The Resnick Sustainability Institute also supports researchers studying photovoltaic solar cells, energy efficiency, energy distribution, and biochemical processes to reduce that carbon footprint of industry.

The Center for Solar Fuels at the University of North Carolinaunc_efrc_logo

The Center for Solar Fuels at the University of North Carolina (UNC) is an Energy Frontier Research Center (EFRC) supported by the U. S. Department of Energy.  The UNC EFRC targets basic science to enable the collection and conversion of energy from sunlight into solar fuels.  The UNC EFRC is focused on solar fuels technologies based on dye-sensitized semiconductors and on making carbon-containing fuels from carbon dioxide, water, and sunlight.  The UNC EFRC is led by Professor Tom Meyer, and includes partners at the University of Florida, the Georgia Institute of Technology, the University of Colorado at Boulder, and Brookhaven National Laboratory.

The Argonne-Northwestern Solar Energy Research Center (ANSER)anser_logo

ANSER was launched in 2007, and is a joint research effort between Northwestern University, Argonne National Laboratory, the University of Chicago, and Yale University.  In 2009, ANSER became one of the original Energy Frontier Research Centers (EFRCs) supported by the U. S. Department of Energy.  ANSER targets the basic science behind molecules, materials, and methods needed to create dramatically more efficient technologies for the production of solar fuels and solar electricity.  ANSER includes research on inorganic semiconductors (such as silicon) as well as organic semiconductors (such as plastics).  ANSER targets both hydrogen and carbon-containing solar fuels.

The Solar Fuels Institute (SOFI) led by Northwestern Universitysofi_logo

SOFI is led by Northwestern University. The mission of SOFI is to support the development of efficient and cost-competitive systems that make liquid fuels from sunlight.  SOFI promotes collaboration amongst global researchers working to make fuels from sunlight.  SOFI provides collaborative tools and opportunities in exchange for paid memberships.

Helios Solar Energy Research Centerhelios_logo

The Solar Energy Research Center (SERC) at Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory is working to develop abiotic systems which make fuels from sunlight.  SERC emphasizes nanoscale photovoltaic cells to collect sunlight, with a major project aimed at using nanoscale photovoltaic cells as building blocks for large-scale photovoltaic arrays.  SERC develops light-absorbing molecules for hybrid photovoltaic elements (similar to dye-sensitized solar cells) and also develops molecular catalysts that make fuels from carbon dioxide, water, and electricity.

Center for Bio-Inspired Solar Fuel Production (BISfuel)


BISfuel is an Energy Frontier Research Center that was established in 2009 by the U. S. Department of Energy.  BISfuel is housed within the Arizona State University Center for Bioenergy and Photosynthesis.   The mission of BISfuel is to adapt fundamental principles behind natural photosynthesis to construct a complete man-made system for making fuels, such as hydrogen, from sunlight.

Research Triangle Solar Fuels Institute (RTSFI)rtsfi

RTSFI is a partnership between Duke University, North Carolina State University, RTI International, and the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.  The goals of RTSFI are to accelerate the science behind making fuels from sunlight to provide a commercial supply of liquid fuels and to stimulate economic investment in solar fuels technologies.  RTSFI seeks to produce hydrogen from water and sunlight.  Research focuses on semiconductors, dye-sensitized solar cells, nanomaterials, and integration of components.

The Energy Sciences Institute at Yale University

Led by Professor Gary Brudvig at Yale University, the Energy Sciences Institute aims to develop new materials for energy production and storage, including the design, synthesis, optimization, and integration of components for a device that makes fuels from sunlight.  The Energy Sciences Institute hosts faculty across the physical sciences.  For example, The Brudvig Group focuses on dye-sensitized solar cells, specifically on developing dyes which mimic natural photosynthesis by absorbing light and transferring energy from the dye molecules to metal oxide semiconductors.  Professor Shu Hu, a Lewis Group alumnus, is a member of the Energy Sciences Institute, and the Hu Group focuses its research on photocatalysis and the electrochemistry of semiconductors.

Korea Center for Artificial Photosynthesis (KCAP)kcap_logo

KCAP was launched in 2009 at Sogang University.  KCAP seeks to further the basic science and to develop original technologies to enable fuels to be made from sunlight commercially.  KCAP aims to generate a liquid fuel and oxygen from water, carbon dioxide, and sunlight.  KCAP partners with the Helios Solar Energy Research Center at Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory, with the Joint Center for Artificial Photosynthesis, and with the Solar Fuels Institute.

 Swedish Consortium for Artificial Photosynthesis

The Swedish Consortium for Artificial Photosynthesis (SCAP) was founded in 1993.  SCAP is conducting basic research into the production of hydrogen fuel from water and sunlight.   SCAP researches both abiotic and biological approaches to making fuels from sunlight.  SCAP researchers design and synthesize complex molecular catalysts, and also genetic and metabolic principles of molecular biology and synthetic biology.

Japan Technological Research Association of Artificial Photosynthetic Chemical Process (ARPChem)arpchem_logo

ARPChem is a consortium of Japanese universities and companies established in 2012 to produce hydrogen fuel from water and sunlight using photocatalysts.  ARPChem includes photocatalysts which simultaneously produce fuels and oxidants in close proximity in their research portfolio, and thus also has a focus on separating chemical products from solution.  This aspect of the work being done by ARPChem distinguishes their portfolio from that of the Lewis Group and others which focus exclusively on electrochemical cells where fuels and oxidants form in distinct and separated compartments.

Since plastics and many other chemicals are currently derived from fossil fuels, ARPChem also seeks to develops catalysts that produce basic chemical substances, such as the raw materials needed for plastics, from carbon dioxide, water, and sunlight.

ARPChem’s efforts in the area hydrogen generation from water and sunlight are led by Professor Kazunari Domen at the University of Tokyo.

Laboratory of Photonics and Interfaces (LPI) at Ecole Polytechnique Federale de Lausanne (EPFL)epfl_logo

LPI at EPFL is a Swiss effort led by Professor Michael Graetzel.  The solar fuels group at LPI aims to develop materials and processes for generating hydrogen or carbon-containing fuels from carbon dioxide, water, and sunlight.  This group focuses on inorganic systems.  The Graetzel group studies semiconductors, particularly metal oxide semiconductors, and coupling catalysts to semiconductors in devices.  Historically the Graetzel group has been a powerhouse in the field of dye-sensitized solar cells, and the group is now a leader in developing perovskite solar cells.  The Graetzel group includes solar fuels devices consisting of separate solar cells wired to electrolyzers in their portfolio.

More Resources About Who is Making Fuels from Sunlight

  1. Check out “Solar Energy: Springtime for the Artificial Leaf” by Jessica Marshall for Nature.  Published 4 June 2014, this article gives an overview of solar fuels research and centers and research groups dedicated to making fuels from sunlight.
  2. Check out “Global Centers for Solar Fuels & Artificial Photosynthesis” by Siddharth Dasgupta of CCI at Caltech.  This presentation from 2011 gives an overview of research centers that are making fuels from sunlight.

by Kimberly Papadantonakis, June 2016.