House science panel readies for solar-fueled votes

sunThe House Science Committee is taking up a trifecta of energy bills Thursday that look to push the ball forward on energy innovation.

The first of the three bills to be marked up and voted on would create a “Solar Fuels Basic Research Initiative” within the Department of Energy.

The program, as proposed in the legislation, is not your typical solar energy advancement bill. There are no solar panels involved.

Instead, the bill seeks to develop a photo-chemical process to create fuels from water and carbon dioxide. The process, referred to in the bill as “artificial photosynthesis,” would extract the carbon dioxide from the air while generating fuels by combining sunlight with water.

Bear in mind that carbon dioxide is blamed for causing manmade climate change, and the process could be seen as a solution. But the bill doesn’t mention global warming or climate change.

“Developing cost-effective and renewable energy technology that can meet the world’s growing energy demands is one of the grand challenges of our time, and the production of so-called ‘solar fuels’ through artificial photosynthesis holds great promise for achieving this important goal while leveraging our nation’s existing leadership in the energy and chemical industries,” said Daniel Esposito, assistant professor Columbia University’s Department of Chemical Engineering, in a letter to the committee leadership on Tuesday.

Esposito was joined in supporting the legislation by several other professors from prominent engineering schools around the country.

The second bill to be looked at by the committee Thursday is the ‘Electricity Storage Innovation Act, which seeks to push the nation further on the development of new energy storage devices such as big batteries.

The bill directs the energy secretary to carry out a research initiative “to expand theoretical and fundamental knowledge to control, store, and convert electrical energy to chemical energy and the inverse.” The bill would seek to help advance battery technology to make energy storage a reality for use on the grid. Energy storage devices are seen as key to making renewable energy a bigger piece of the nation’s electricity system, while making it also more reliable.

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