Solar energy has the power to reduce greenhouse gases and provide increased energy efficiency, says a scientist at the U.S. Department of Energy’s Argonne National Laboratory, in a report published in the March issue of Physics Today.

Last month, the United Nations’ Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change released a report confirming global warming is upon us and attributing the growing threat to the man-made burning of fossil fuels.

Opportunities to increase solar energy conversion as an alternative to fossil fuels are addressed in the Physics Today article, coauthored by George Crabtree, PhD, senior scientist and director of Argonne’s Materials Science Division, and Nathan Lewis, PhD, a professor of chemistry at Caltech and director of its Molecular Materials Research Center.

Currently, between 80% and 85% of our energy comes from fossil fuels, but they are a finite source distributed unevenly beneath Earth’s surface. When fossil fuel is turned into useful energy through combustion, it often produces environmental pollutants that are harmful to human health and greenhouse gases that threaten the global climate. In contrast, solar resources are widely available and have a benign effect on the environment and climate, making them an appealing alternative energy source.

“Sunlight is not only the most plentiful energy resource on earth, [but] also one of the most versatile, converting readily to electricity, fuel and heat,” Dr. Crabtree says. “The challenge is to raise its conversion efficiency by factors of five or 10. That requires understanding the fundamental conversion phenomena at the nanoscale. We are just scratching the surface of this rich research field.”

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