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    Artificial Photosynthesis Effort Takes Root

    While a debate rages about the government's role in funding energy innovation, sparked by high-profile failures of government-backed companies such as Solyndra and A123 Systems, a less controversial federal clean-tech investment strategy has been quietly humming along, garnering bipartisan support. So-called innovation hubs, multidisciplinary research centers meant to emulate the legendary Bell Laboratories by combining scientific research with applied technology, have managed to get continued government funding even as Congress works to cut the overall federal budget.

    Artificial leaf: This prototype from the Joint Center for Artificial Photosynthesis Innovation Hub uses energy from sunlight to isolate hydrogen from water.
    Credit: Joint Center for Artificial Photosynthesis
    Two years after first getting funding, one of the current hubs—a Caltech-based effort focused on using sunlight to make liquid fuels—says it has made substantial progress toward devices that convert sunlight and water into hydrogen and oxygen that could be used to power a car or generate electricity on demand. Eventually, the researchers hope to combine the hydrogen with carbon from carbon dioxide to make liquid fuels similar to gasoline or diesel.

    Researchers have been pursuing what's known as artificial photosynthesis for decades. Progress has been slow, and making the process economical on a large scale remains a seemingly distant goal. The new innovation hub, which is meant to receive $122 million over five years, plans to hurry this research along by bringing together a large number of experts in different areas, including catalysis, optics, and membrane technology.



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