The SOFI Blog

We’ll keep you updated on news and developments in the solar fuels and renewable energy field. Topics include science, industry, and energy policy. Check back regularly to get our take on what you need to know, what’s interesting, and what we’re reading around the web.

University of Calgary Post-doc Postions

In 2016, the University of Calgary was awarded $75 million over seven years from the Canada First Research Excellence Fund (CFREF) for its initiative entitled: “Global Research Initiative in Sustainable Low Carbon Unconventional Resources”. The goal of this research is to dramatically reduce the impact of energy extraction and energy use on the environment. As part of the implementation of its CFREF scientific strategy and to address the Grand Challenge aiming to develop next generation of CO2 conversion catalysis, a project in the production climate neutral synthetic fuels through electrocatalytic carbon dioxide reduction is seeking team members at the Postdoctoral level. Successful candidates will work within a multidisciplinary team of synthetic chemists, electrochemists, surface scientists and engineers consisting of 5-7 PI’s, 5 PDFs and a similar number of graduate students. The primary aim will be to develop new, selective CO2 conversion catalysts supported on novel conducting materials. While initially CO will be targeted as a product, other potential fuels will also be within scope. Accordingly, we seek applications from qualified candidates within 2-4 years of their Ph.D. degree to fill up to 5 Postdoctoral Fellow positions with the following specific qualifications: Synthetic inorganic chemistry (2): Ph. D. in inorganic chemistry with an emphasis on the synthesis and characterization of organometallic and coordination compounds, particularly of the first row transition series. The ability to prepare and manipulate air and moisture sensitive compounds, and characterize them using a suite of modern spectroscopic and analytical techniques. Working knowledge of electrochemistry and/or X-ray crystallography is also strongly desired. Electrochemistry and catalysis: Ph. D. in electrochemistry with an emphasis on electrocatalysis, including homogeneous and... read more

A gem of a new energy journal – Joule

At the end of February, Cell Press, an imprint of Elsevier, launched their newest
journal – Joule. Joule is the second Cell Press journal with an emphasis on the physical sciences (Chem launched in July 2016) and their first with a specific focus on energy research.

Editor-in-Chief, Philip Earis, describes Joule as a “distinctive and forward-looking journal, bridging disciplines and scales of energy research.” His vision for Joule is to provide a publication home for all areas of sustainable energy research, including: scientific, technical, economic, policy, and social. SOFI agrees…

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2nd International Solar Fuels Conference (ISF-2)

July 6th 2017, at the University of San Diego, the 2nd International Solar Fuels Conference will commence. The next 4 days will be filled with presentations and demonstrations of cutting-edge work by professors, researchers, and industrial specialists from across the US and around the world. Attendees are experts in their fields and they represent the many disciplines relating to solar fuels research. Presentations and discussions will cover a range of topics from biological approaches to more purely chemical pathways to technoeconomic analysis of current market positions, there will be something for everyone at ISF-2…

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Phase 1: Complete

Back in February 2016 we announced the commencement of the building phase of the SOFI Demonstration Project. Our plan designated four phases of development:

Phase 1: CO2 to Methanol conversion
Phase 2: H2 generation from water splitting
Phase 3: Renewable energy incorporation
Phase 4: CO2 capture
This past April Alex Grant, a graduate student in the Notestein research group at Northwestern University, began working on Phase 1 of the SOFI Demo Project – the CO2 to Methanol reactor. After 6 months of building, coding, and tweaking – the first drops of methanol dripped from the reactor’s condenser…

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SOFI: 2016 in Review

Near the start of 2016, we opened the SOFI Knowledge Map to contributions from the solar fuels community. The response has been great. We are producing more “how to” videos, so look for those in 2017! If you have authored a paper and are looking for a way to reference your results easily in a presentation, add the numbers from your papers to the SOFI Knowledge Map and then mention the website in your talk. People can easily access your paper’s results and bookmark it for later use! In 2017, you will be able to add a logo to your presentation to indicate your work is in the Knowledge Map. We are looking forward launching this feature in early 2017, stay tuned. We announced in April that we were starting Phase 1 of the SOFI Demonstration project. In early November Alex Grant, a graduate student in the Notestein Lab at Northwestern, successfully produced methanol from CO2 and H2. We are working on summarizing all of the technical details, so stay tuned to the SOFI Blog for details. This success was hard won and the result of thinking critically about each step in the process and the limitations of each piece in this puzzle. Next, we are hoping to move to on-demand H2 as part of Phase 2. We welcome ideas, collaborators, and partners in this effort! August 2016 saw SOFI’s first entrepreneurship workshop. We brought together 4 early career researchers (from the US, UK, and France), two entrepreneurs, and a selection of representative from various sectors covering policy, patent law, and consulting. This two-day intensive workshop focused on the... read more

Collaboration is Key

Last week Prof Hammarström published a Perspective in Chem, on the important roles of catalysis and solar fuels in meeting our future energy needs. One of our favorite quotes from Prof Hammarström’s piece is: “The challenges and opportunities for solar fuels are great, and we need a long-term and cross-disciplinary commitment of research and development to make this a reality.” As a member and leader of the Swedish Consortium for Artificial Photosynthesis (CAP), Prof Hammarström knows very well the importance and benefits of cross-disciplinary research. Research done within the Swedish Consortium covers nearly all aspects of artificial photosynthesis. From studying photosynthesis itself to mutating photosynthetic organisms to synthesizing and probing systems inspired by nature, no avenue is left unexplored in CAP. Additionally, CAP consists of biologist, biophysicist, molecular biologist, microbial chemists, synthetic chemists, computational chemists, and chemical physicists. Much of the scientific community considers consortia like CAP to be the epitome of a cross-disciplinary organization. A follow-up to Prof Hammarström’s publication, from Georgia State University and Northwestern University, further states that to make solar fuels a commercial reality scientists will need to look beyond the physical and biological sciences and involve social scientists in their cross-disciplinary efforts to ensure technological developments receive favorable support from the public and policymakers. “Without public support, solar energy technologies are unlikely to succeed in the political and economic marketplace.” Public opinion indeed plays a significant role in a technology’s market success and the policies surrounding it. The authors, based on research data, point out clearly that “solar” is becoming more widespread and acceptable. This is great news for wider adoption and favorable policies... read more

CO2 Capture Companies who are Changing the status quo

Earlier this year (2105), the Carbon XPRIZE was announced. Taking a hint on how a successful XPRIZE’s impact a market from the Ansari XPRIZE for space travel, in 2017 we can expect to see more carbon capture companies venturing into the CO2 marketplace. By utilizing the CO2, rather than storing it, we can begin to replace feedstocks traditionally sourced from petroleum. Evolving from a fossil fuel economy to a carbon neutral, or even carbon negative economy, will take time, investment, and innovation. One of the essential first steps is figuring out how to capture CO2 from air. Since the Carbon XPRIZE has focused on capturing CO2 from power plant flue gas, we would like to take a look at ambient air capture. As Global Thermostat’s CTO, Dr. Peter Eisenberger notes “coupling to power plants will only reduce CO2 emissions by two fold”. He emphasizes that we need to reduce the levels of CO2 currently in the atmosphere, as well as dramatically reducing any future emissions. Both Eisenberger and GT’s CEO Dr. Graciela Chichilnisky insist on the essential role of direct air capture and the successful monetization of CO2 in truly solving this global problem. And they should know, Global Thermostat was recently featured by Forbes & KPMG in the series “The Great ReWrite”. With no governmental grants, Global Thermostat has been able to operate and expand by thinking about CO2 as a potential feedstock and helping companies increase their profits by utilizing CO2 captured on site. Global Thermostat’s technology is unique in that, its main requirement for operation is small amounts of heat, often sourced from local waste streams.... read more

US DOE Carbon Dioxide Utilization Funding

August 8th, 2016, the US Department of Energy and the National Energy Technology Laboratory published the Funding Opportunity Announcement (FOA) DE-FOA-0001622, an announcement directed at developing technology for CO2 capture and utilization from flue gas of coal fired power plants. Rather than sequester the CO2, DOE is encouraging the development of technologies to utilize the CO2, by converting it into valuable products. The DOE is NOT interested in projects that involved alternative power sources (such as solar and wind) nor are they interested in projects that would use the CO2 for enhanced oil recovery. Projects that can demonstrate effectively utilization of all levels of heat in a coal fired power plant, integrate process and materials development that accelerate time to market for products, and target high-value products like carbon nanofibers, plastics, fuels, and concrete will be most successful. In their call for applications, DOE recognizes that no single approach will fit every situation. They have specified 3 areas of interest: Biological based concepts for beneficial use of CO2 Mineralization concepts utilizing CO2 with industrial wastes Novel physical and chemical processes for beneficial use of carbon Applicants should expect to install their technology in a coal fired plant for validation and verification; however, when needed the flue gas can be modeled to meet the current air quality standards of the EPA. That is particulate matter, SOX, NOX, and Hg levels will be at appropriate levels as to comply with the current EPA regulations. The DOE indicates all successful applicants will provide a technoeconomic analysis of their proposed technology clearly illustrating how their new technology is an improvement over current technologies,... read more

Chemistry focused Pre-print server: ChemRxiv

August 10th the American Chemical Society, a major publisher in the field of Chemistry, announced their intent to create a pre-print server for Chemistry focused papers. The reaction to this announcement have been far reaching and mixed. Let’s step back a few paces and look at where the idea of pre-print servers took shape. In 1991, Paul Ginsparg recognized the need for central storage of TeX based preprints he and a colleague, Joanne Cohn, were sharing at Los Alamos National Laboratory. According to Wikipedia, the first version of this preprint server was called the “LANL Preprint Archive” and was initially focused on physics publications. As the research fields began to expand, Ginsparg relocated the servers to Cornell University in 1999 and adopted the name now servers Physics, Mathematics, Computer Science, Quantitative Biology, Quantitative Finance, Statistics, and various sub-disciplines. Cornell University and the Simons Foundation are the main financial supporters of, with other member institutions contributing between $2000-$4000 USD annually. Three years ago bioRxiv launched to accommodate preprints in the biological sciences field. Cold Spring Harbor Laboratory Press launched bioRxiv in 2013 and have nearly 3100 posted preprint publications. The pre-print server trend is catching on in other disciplines as well, Social Science Research Network developed a pre-print server for law, economics, and social science that was quickly purchased by Elsevier earlier this year. Engineering has welcomed a preprint server, engrXiv, dedicated to all aspects of engineering including “…outcomes like data, code, designs, and computational models, can be shared, peer-reviewed and cited using a single framework” So what has taken Chemistry so long? Several sources (RSC’s Chemistry... read more