Early in July 2016, US Representative Steve Knight (R-CA) introduced a bill to establish a three-year program in the US Department of Energy to
“expand theoretical and fundamental knowledge of photochemistry, electrochemistry, biochemistry, and materials science useful for the practical development of experimental systems to convert solar energy to chemical energy.”
This bill was cosponsored by 8 additional representatives: Daniel Lipinski (D-IL), Lamar Smith (R-TX), Randy Weber Sr. (R-TX), Randy Neugebauer (R-TX), Randy Hultgren (R-IL), Bill Posey (FL-R), John Moolenaar (R-MI), Brain Babin (R-TX). The $75 million USD a year proposed budget would dramatically increase the financial resources directed at solar fuels research.
This bill acknowledges the importance of fundamental research in moving us towards a carbon neutral or even carbon free society. H.R. 5638 designates funding specifically for solar fuels, artificial photosynthesis, and photosynthetic biochemical research, which affirms the importance of the cutting edge research being done in this area. However, the explicit forbiddance of H.R. 5638 funding to be used toward commercialization should not be seen as an indication that this field currently only resides in academic labs. As a matter of fact, there are many exciting efforts today that are turning basic research into scalable, market-ready technologies. SOFI believes there will be many more in the near future.
Technology developed in academic labs often have a nearly 20-year lag time to make it to market, so additional support for small businesses pursuing solar fuels technologies and applications would have boosted the field even more. Perhaps that funding can be introduced in the near future as the translational research portfolio, to be funded by EERE, moves towards commercial reality. Generating a solar fuel is no longer a fundamental problem. Various industries are demonstrating and commercializing technologies capable of producing a fuel using energy from solar and wind sources.
SOFI believes there is a silver lining in this for the emerging solar fuels and carbon industries. Government funded research does not have to only produce Ph.D.s and peer-reviewed publications! By democratizing the knowledge this funding produces in accessible ways, we can further create an ecosystem where industry can thrive.
Databases like the SOFI Knowledge Map are designed and built to capture data, essential metrics and facts, from publications and make them accessible to anyone, anytime, anywhere in the world. In February 2013, the White House released a Memorandum increasing public access to results from federally funded research. While this relates more to the tax-paying US public as a whole, the motivation is the same – make data & metrics (results) from government funded research accessible.
Thoughtfully designed databases, like SOFI’s Knowledge Map, allow for the efficient collection of data, facts, and metrics from published research and makes them available to everyone. Innovators around the world are able to utilize the extracted data to have more “shots on goal” in partnering and developing novel technologies directed at renewable fuel.
Innovation cannot happen at scale without a sustained ecosystem. Ideally, data/knowledge platforms like the SOFI Knowledge Map will enable industries and small businesses to benefit from legislation focused on fundamental research, like the Solar Fuels Innovation Act.