Inventing Clean Energy Technologies to Meet Global Needs
At Caltech, exceptional scientists, engineers, and students collaborate across disciplines to address the biggest challenges in energy science and clean technology and deliver world-changing solutions.
Caltech researchers advance fundamental science and engineering to create knowledge that accelerates the development of new technologies. More than 20 Caltech faculty members lead energy-focused collaborations that leverage the Institute's renowned programs in engineering, chemistry, chemical engineering, physics, nanotechnology, and information science.
- Rugged, ultraefficient solar cells made of common materials
- Strategically placed arrays of precision-engineered wind turbines
- Fuels made from sunlight, air, and water via artificial photosynthesis
- Engineered enzymes that convert plant waste and grasses into fuels
- Next-generation rechargeable and single-use batteries
- Technologies for storing hydrogen at room temperature
- Algorithms, architecture, financial tools, and hardware for creating a "smart grid" that responds to electrical supply and demand
- Energy-conserving data servers and networks
- Thermoelectric devices that turn heat from tailpipes and electronics into energy
- Fuel cells that efficiently convert fuels into electricity
Conservation and Cleantech
- Green catalysts, enzymes, and chemistry to create nontoxic and efficient manufacturing processes
- Solar-powered sanitation and water-treatment systems for the developing world
Research Centers and Partnerships
- Resnick Sustainability Institute
- Joint Center for Artificial Photosynthesis (JCAP), a DOE Energy Innovation Hub
- Light-Material Interactions in Energy Conversion, a DOE Energy Frontier Research Center
- Powering the Planet Center for Chemical Innovation (CCI Solar), an NSF center
- Center for the Science and Engineering of Materials, an NSF center
- Center for Sustainable Energy Research
- Center for Bioinspired Wind Energy
In addition, a wide variety of Caltech researchers work in close partnership with universities, national laboratories, and corporations to advance clean-energy research. The Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory is our joint partner in leading JCAP, and we also draw on the expertise of researchers at three University of California campuses.
- Caltech is ranked #1 in chemistry (2010, shared ranking, Best Graduate Schools) and #2 in chemical engineering (2012, Best Engineering Schools) in U.S. News & World Report's most recent rankings. Ranked #1 in chemistry—a core discipline for energy research—Caltech is renowned for its work on catalysts, which are key to commercial progress in areas from solar fuels to fuel cells to the synthesis of new materials for wind turbines.
- In 2010, a peer-review process led the DOE to choose Caltech to lead its Energy Innovation Hub for solar fuels, now known as JCAP.
- National Medal of Science–winner Harry Gray leads an ongoing, worldwide search for abundant, nontoxic catalysts capable of splitting water using sunlight—the key to the production of solar fuels.
- Draper Prize–winner Frances Arnold has invented the process of directed evolution and uses it to evolve enzymes that can aid in the production of biofuels and green pharmaceuticals.
- Nobel Laureate Robert Grubbs has invented a catalyst he is using to synthesize high-performance resins for wind turbines.
- MacArthur Fellow John Dabiri looks to fluid dynamics to design wind-turbine arrays that harvest 10 times more power than traditional turbine arrays.
- Eni Award–winner Harry Atwater led the development of a type of ultrathin solar cell that has twice broken records for light absorption. The solar cell also earned him a Popular Mechanics Breakthrough Award.
- A team from Caltech and the Southern California Institute of Architecture (SCI-Arc) are building a zero-net-energy home for the next national Solar Decathlon; their first entry, in the 2011 competition, won top scores in two categories.
- Work by Caltech faculty members and recent alumni have resulted in the founding of several prominent clean-energy start-ups, including Gevo (a renewable chemicals and advanced biofuels company), Materia (based on Robert Grubb's revolutionary catalysts), and Alta Devices (which produces high-efficiency solar cells).
Emerging Fields or Areas of Research
Caltech research groups are rapidly advancing the development of mass-producible solar cells that achieve unprecedented efficiencies through quantum light management; stronger, lighter, and more productive wind turbines; and solar fuels—a newly concerted global effort driven by Caltech. Researchers are increasingly focused on the development of prototypes and technologies that can be commercialized for addressing urgent energy and environmental needs.