SMArchS COLLOQUIUM 2013 : The (Changing) Status of LIGHT
10am-12pm Room 3-133
Friday Sept 13 Prof DANIEL NOCERA: “The Legacy and Portent of Photosynthesis”
Daniel G. Nocera (former Drefus Professor of Chemistry at MIT) is currently Patterson Rockwall Professor of Energy at the Department of Chemistry and Chemical Biology at Harvard, where he runs the Nocera Lab: The Chemistry of Renewable Energy. He has analyzed current (~14 terra watt) and predicted mid-late century (~40-50 terra watt) global energy use, and offers acute forecasts for the limitation of virtually all current and alternative energy sources in respect of that need, including the current exploitation of coal and oil that is burning off the legacy of stored sunlight at a prodigious rate with critical CO2 pollution resulting.
His research centers on the study of basic mechanisms of solar energy conversion in biology and chemistry, developing artificial photosynthesis to offer benign fuel generation and storage. His current focus is the engineering and manufacture of the Artifical Leaf, a device that mimics the photosynthetic process in plants: it absorbs sunlight and converts it into chemical energy. The ‘leaf’ is made from stable and inexpensive materials, can harness sunlight to split water into hydrogen and oxygen as a closed system, offering the potential for low cost energy storage that can be exploited via fuel cells without CO2 or other pollution. Nocera has recently been funded by the Tata Foundation, targeting poor rural housing in India as a first bottom-up demonstration of this new energy technology: it is significant that he has found funding from such a developing-world source, offered a remarkable 70-year return on investment…
Nocera looks to exploiting sunlight and water (only) to attain a sustainable energy future, predicting that by mid-century such methods might largely supply global energy needs. This would significantly alter patterns of energy distribution, suggesting a dispersed energy system that would have significant impact on urban infrastructure. Equally, the promise of abundant energy at ultra-low cost would significantly alter current thinking about energy use, and radicalize energy markets. Given the cogency of his research, these ideas merit conceptualizing by architects and urban designers, as they might have significant impact on the form of buildings and cities; and also the on building codes that assume costly and polluting energy production. His work offers a quite optimistic counterpoint to current energy use and to (bleak) energy forecasts; and it also offers an implicit critique of bio, wind, tidal, solar-cell and nuclear energy production as together offering only a partial solution to the energy needs of a burgeoning developing-world need. It also potentially lifts the lid on initiatives like Passivhaus and the material and formal restrictions they mandate, albeit in the long-term.
Readings (select texts posted on http://4.221.scripts.mit.edu/fa13/ )
See the MIT News report on the artificial leaf, that appeared on Sept 30, 2011. See also Nocera’s “Solar Energy: Capturing the Sun” MIT course syllabus: the course discussed the development of the fundamental enabling science that will ultimately lead to a solution to delivering abundant clean energy to global markets. In “The Artificial Leaf” (Nov 2011), Nocera describes how he used the design principles of photosynthesis as a roadmap to create the Artificial Leaf. In “Can We Progress from Solipsistic Science to Frugal Innovation?,” he positions his research within a scientific paradigm shift from centralized energy systems to broadly accessible, renewable and sustainable energy supplies.