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US House advances research bills for solar fuels, energy storage

TheU.S. House Committee on Science, Space and Technology approved two bills July 7to fund research into electric power storage and the conversion of sunlightinto energy fuels.

H.R.5638, or the Solar Fuels Innovation Act, would direct the U.S. Department ofEnergy to form a research program on experimental systems for convertingsunlight to energy fuels. The program would use expertise from DOE's nationallaboratories, as well as universities and the private sector.

Theresearch would partly focus on artificial photosynthesis systems, includingphotoinduced production of hydrogen and oxygen from water and photoinducedreduction of carbon dioxide to fuel products. The bill authorizes funds forfiscal years 2017 through 2020 for these activities, which would be splitbetween $50 million per year from the DOE's Basic Energy Sciences Program and$25 million per year from the department's Energy Efficiency and RenewableEnergy account.

Anotherpart of the program would focus on replicating natural photosynthetic processesusing artificial components and materials. Those activities would also receive$50 million per year from the Basic Energy Sciences Program and $25 million peryear from the Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy division for fiscal years2017-2020.

Thelegislation, which Rep. Stephen Knight, R-Calif., introduced July 6, drewletters of support from 11 major universities including Columbia University, CaliforniaInstitute of Technology and YaleUniversity.

"Innovations in solar fuelsproduction would allow for grid-scale energy storage, and for carbon-neutraltransportation fuels, both of which are critical gaps at present towardsreaching a carbon-neutral society," a group of eight professors from Yale'sEnergy Sciences Institute said in a letter to Committee Chairman Lamar Smith,R-Texas, and Ranking Member Eddie Bernice Johnson, D-Texas.

Thecommittee on July 7 also approved H.R. 5640, or the Electricity StorageInnovation Act, which Smith introduced July 6. The bill would establish a basicresearch program within DOE for electricity storage, including the study ofmultivalent ion materials in energy storage systems, electrochemistry modelingand simulation, and mesoscale electrochemistry. Those programs would togetherreceive $150 million per year in fiscal years 2017 through 2020.

"Thedevelopment of safe and efficient energy storage devices is essential to thesustainability of the planet, as they provide means of making energy derivedfrom intermittent sources, such as wind and solar radiation, continuouslyavailable," Daniel Scherson, a chemistry professor at Case Western ReserveUniversity, said in a July 5 letter to Smith and Johnson in support of the bill.

Thecommittee agreed to adopt amendments to both bills from Rep. Alan Grayson,D-Fla., that would allow the research to be conducted through DOE's energyinnovation hubs. The department established the hubs in 2010 tocombine basic and applied research with engineering. The four hubs include theJoint Center for Artificial Photosynthesis, which works on producing fuelsdirectly from sunlight.