Our current fossil-fuel-based system is causing potentially catastrophic changes to our planet. The quest for renewable, nonpolluting sources of energy requires us to understand, predict, and ultimately control matter and energy at the electronic, atomic, and molecular levels. Light-source facilities—the synchrotrons of today and the next-generation light sources of tomorrow—are the scientific tools of choice for exploring the electronic and atomic structure of matter. As such these photon-science facilities are uniquely positioned to jump-start a global revolution in renewable and carbon-neutral energy technologies.
To establish the scientific foundations for the kind of transformative breakthroughs needed to build a 21st-century energy economy, we must address fundamental questions involving matter and energy. Below is a sampling of such questions that can be addressed by light-source facilities:
- How can we modify the behavior of electrons and holes in semiconductors to more efficiently convert solar energy into electricity using earth-abundant materials?
- How can we harness photosynthesis and efficiently transform abundant plant material into biofuel? Can we produce fuel directly from sunlight by developing artificial photosynthesis?
- How can we increase the energy capacity and durability of lithium-ion batteries to maintain performance over hundreds to thousands of charge—discharge cycles?
- How can we understand the electrical and chemical properties of a working electrochemical fuel cell to tailor its properties for the production of fuel or electricity?
- How does carbon dioxide interact with naturally occurring materials under ambient conditions during storage, and what can we learn about these materials to improve their capture capacity?
- How can we identify combustion products at the parts-per-million level to improve efficiency and control pollution that results from the burning of fuel?
- How do we tailor the electronic properties of nanostructured catalysts to achieve higher activity or selectivity with inexpensive materials?