Towards Biosolar Cells program receives government funding

By Lisa Gibson
Posted July 22, 2009, at 4:14 p.m. CST

The Dutch Government recently gave Towards Biosolar Cells program in the Netherlands the green light to begin research, along with 25 million ($35.5 million) in funding. The research will focus on increasing the efficiency of sunlight conversion to energy and building materials in plants and algae through photosynthesis.

The program is expected to begin in 2010 and is a collaboration of six universities (Wageningen University Research Center, Free University of Amsterdam, University of Amsterdam, Technical University of Delft, University of Groningen and Leiden University), 30 companies, three leading institutes, a higher vocational education institute and the Netherlands Organisation for Scientific Research, according to Huub de Groot of Leiden University. The number of collaborators could grow, he added.

The Ministry of Agriculture, Nature and Food Quality recommended the program because it will contribute to green energy, improve food supplies and create a more sustainable biomass. The concept is along the lines of the Energy Frontier Research Centers in the U.S., de Groot said. In April, the White House announced it will invest $777 million over the next five years in 46 new laboratories for its program. Towards Biosolar Cells will not have a lab location. Instead, participating scientists each will conduct research at their locations.

The program has three main goals: increasing the photosynthetic efficiency of plants, resulting in more biomass and higher energy yields per given surface area with more, larger or heavier plants; producing fuels directly and bypassing the biomass phase with microorganisms for direct conversion; and combining natural and technological components to create solar collectors that supply fuel rather than electricity. The last goal includes producing artificial leaves, the most advanced area of the program's concentration, de Groot said. "We look at how photosynthesis works and we try to copy it in artificial material," he said. Artificial devices can have much better efficiency, he added.

The funding is for a period of five years, de Groot said, after which time it will be determined whether more research and funding is needed.