Solar Energy: Capturing the Sun
This course is currently only offered as a custom program. The below description should be taken as an example of content and can be tailored to meet company needs. If you have been thinking about a customized course for your group of 25 or more, please review additional information on the Custom Programs page.
The supply of secure, clean, sustainable energy is arguably the most important scientific and technical challenge facing humanity in the 21st century. Rising living standards of a growing world population will cause global energy consumption to increase dramatically over the next half century. Within our lifetimes, energy consumption will increase at least two-fold, from our current burn rate of 12.8 TW to 28 – 35 TW by 2050 (TW = 1012 watts). This additional energy needed, over the current 12.8 TW energy base, is simply not attainable from long discussed sources – these include nuclear, biomass, wind, geothermal and hydroelectric. The global appetite for energy is simply too much. Petroleum-based fuel sources (i.e., coal, oil and gas) could be increased. However, deleterious consequences resulting from external drivers of economy, the environment, and global security dictate that this energy need be met by renewable and sustainable sources.
Sunlight is by far the most abundant global carbon-neutral energy resource. Solar has the significant advantages of wide distribution, it is the most environmentally sound energy source, and solar has the potential to meet the large scale energy needs of the future. More solar energy strikes the surface of the earth in one hour than is provided by all of the fossil energy consumed globally in a year. Sunlight may be used to power the planet by its conversion into electricity and chemical fuel. But there is a problem. A response to the “grand challenge” of using the sun as the future’s energy source faces a daunting challenge - large expanses of fundamental science and technology await discovery for sunlight-based energy systems to be enabled and a robust energy policy must be developed that permits new solar technologies to be implemented in a competitive energy market.
The solar opportunity represents a high payoff direction with significant reward but there is no escape that the development of this energy source faces tremendous challenges and substantial breakthroughs are needed. Any viable solar energy conversion must result in a 6 fold decrease in the cost-to-efficiency ratio for the production of electricity and a 10-20 fold decrease stored fuels and must be stable and robust for a 20-30 year period. To reduce the cost of installed solar energy conversion systems from $0.25 - 0.40/kW hr to $0.02 - 0.10/kW hr, a cost level that would make them economically very attractive in today’s energy market, will require truly revolutionary technologies that do not exist at the present time. With the current science and technology landscape for solar so wide open, and no obvious “silver bullet” solution to the problem on the horizon, a comprehensive understanding of the solar energy problem and the science that underpins its solution will be the focus of this course.
Science targeting efficient utilization of solar energy is inherently interdisciplinary, involving biology, inorganic and organic synthesis, solid state chemistry and physics, electrochemistry, chemical kinetics and mechanism, and theoretical and computational chemistry/biology. In addition, it involves concepts of homogeneous and interfacial science between solids, liquids, and gases. The course will focus on the science needed from these disciplines to develop the fundamental enabling science that will contribute to, and ultimately lead to a solution of delivering clean energy to society, in the form of chemical fuels, produced from the sun.
Fundamentals: Core concepts, understandings and tools (20%)
Latest Developments: Recent advances in solar on bio and physical fronts (60%)
Industry Applications: Linking solar and science advances to investment, policy and industry (20%)
Lecture: Delivery of material in a lecture format (90%)
Discussion, Workgroup and Data Mining Lab: Designing your database for your own global energy calculations (10%)
Introductory: Appropriate for a general audience (50%)
Specialized: Assumes experience in practice area or field (35%)
Advanced: In-depth explorations at the graduate level (15%)
- Examine global energy calculations, including how to do them and what they mean.
- Assess global climate models and what they mean.
- Investigate the way nature performs biological energy conversion.
- Examine solar capture and conversion (photovoltaics and photochemical assemblies).
- Describe energy storage: chemical fuels, batteries and supercapacitors.
Who Should Attend
Professionals, educators and public, and all who are concerned about this planet’s future. A college background in science (even at a general level) will be sufficient to understand a majority of the material presented in this course. The course will develop principles from the ground up, and will be relatively self-contained, i.e., all principles will be developed within the course. So the most modest of technical backgrounds will suffice for much of the material in the course. However, the intellectual design of the course is interleaved, so even the most sophisticated scientists will find much new material interesting.
This course seeks to provide a roadmap to provide the participant with the underlying science, technology, and attendant economic policy needed to permit future generations to use the sun as a renewable and sustainable energy source and to advance the time at which this is realized on a large scale. The course will focus on the following topic areas:
- Global energy scaling calculations. The instructors’ calculations are now used by scientists, investors, and policy makers. The instructor will share these calculations in the course and then show students how to perform new (and their own) calculations.
- Bioenergy conversion. The science behind bioenergy conversion will be discussed. An emphasis will be placed on limitations of bioenergy conversion. From the science platform developed by the instructor, many investors worldwide have designed investment portfolios. The emphasis will be on the science, not investment. With this knowledge, investment strategies follow.
- Biological energy conversion will be discussed. This aspect of the course will focus on: (1) the mechanism of biological energy conversion, photosynthesis and lessons learned from the process for the design of a comprehensive energy module (electricity and fuel storage), (2) hydrogenase and how Nature makes hydrogen, and (3) the oxygen evolving complex and how Nature makes oxygen.
- Photosynthesis. The principles of mimicking Nature involve solar capture and conversion and then the storage of this energy in oxygen and hydrogen produced from water splitting.
- Photovoltaics. To achieve low solar (electrical or chemical) cost to power ratios, at least four approaches are possible. Various technologies will be presented ranging from the most technology intensive endeavors to the most basic research intensive endeavors in the PV field.
- Solar Photochemical. Solar energy is intermittent and must be stored and dispatched to be useful on a large scale. Thus chemical fuels must be produced to provide a useable primary energy system from this intermittent source. A focus of this initiative is to develop catalysts, that when interfaced to the PVs, are capable of translating the light capture and charge separation function of the PV, into useful fuel forming reactions. To do this, several basic chemistry, (bio-) engineering, materials and theory problems need to be addressed that will permit catalysts to be developed and then interfaced to PVs.
- Catalysis. The catalysis of other small molecules of energy consequence will be discussed including carbon dioxide and methane.
- Energy Policy. Economic and social science policy research initiatives are needed to enable introduction of a solar energy technology. Successful development and introduction of solar technology depends on effective and responsible public management and policies through the entire innovation cycle. Some of the most pertinent issues will be introduced at the conclusion of the course.
Course schedule and registration times
Class runs 9:00 am - 5:00 pm every day.
Registration is on Monday morning from 8:15 - 8:45 am.
Please note that laptops are required for this course.
Technical Staff, MIT Lincoln Laboratory
"All speakers where extremely dynamic. Five days of lectures, and my mind never wandered off any of the presentations. Unbelievable! Well proportioned mix between high level overview and more detailed scientific explanations."
Assistant Professor from Wentworth Institute of Technology
"Professor Nocera brought in numerous experts from various aspects of the solar energy field. They all had their own perspectives, all a little different, giving a balanced view overall. "
Partner, Goodwin Procter LLP
"It was great to hear about the range of technologies being investigated and the scientific, engineering and technical issues involved, particularly from such an impressive group of experts. It was informative, thought provoking, and a lot of fun."
About The Lecturers
For more information about the course lecturers listed below click here.
Course Director: Daniel G. Nocera, Henry Dreyfus Professor of Energy at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology.
Professor Nocera will enlist world experts in climate modeling, photovoltaics and catalysis. These scientists from all over the world, are leaders in their subject areas and include: Ronald G. Prinn, James Anderson, Howard Herzog, Robert C. Armstrong, Tonio Buonassisi, Thomas Kempa, Mircea Dinca, Thomas D. Jarvi, Matthew Kanan, Joshua Linn, and Mike Decelle.
This course takes place on the MIT campus in Cambridge, Massachusetts. We can also offer this course for groups of employees at your location. Please complete the Custom Programs request form for further details.
- ‘Artificial leaf’ makes fuel from sunlight--a September 30, 2011 MIT News article offers information about Professor Nocera's research to develop a device that combines a solar cell with a catalyst to split water molecules and generate energy.
- Speaking at the National Meeting of the American Chemical Society in California, MIT Professor Daniel claims to have created an artificial leaf made from stable and inexpensive materials that mimics nature’s photosynthesis process. Click here to read the March 28, 2011 news story in Wired Magazine.
- Professor Nocera spoke about his ideas on "personalized" energy during an MIT campus lecture on September 15, 2009--click here to read the article and watch the video.