June 02, 2017

There's a lot of energy up there to be captured. Credit: Courtney Collison / Flickr

The sun delivers a lot more energy to the planet than we’re able to capture right now - not that we aren’t trying. You’ve seen the solar panels popping up on your neighbor’s roof. Those turn sunlight into electricity and store it away in batteries. But batteries are expensive, they can be unreliable, and they’re not always safe. 

Inspired by the way that plants capture the sun’s rays, scientists are trying to turn sunlight into fuel through “artificial photosynthesis.” That fuel could one day power our planes, trains, and cars. We visit the lab of Caltech’s Nathan Lewis, one of the leading researchers working to transform our energy economy. 

Three Takeaways: 

  • If we do unlock the secret to “artificial photosynthesis,” our energy problems will basically be solved. The Earth gets a lot more energy from the sun than people use right now. 
  • Just as we learned flying was possible by watching birds, we’re learning about photosynthesis by studying plants. But, Lewis says, researchers are hoping to be 10 times more efficient. 
  • Lewis was inspired to become a scientist during the gas crises of the 1970s. “I was one of the people that was waiting with my parents in gas lines for two hours,” Lewis says. “And I wanted to do something about that.” 

More reading: 

And if you want to take a deep dive and understand the chemistry of Nathan Lewis’ work, here he is explaining the specifics

Green, solar, Nate Lewis, climate, science and tech

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