Caltech clean-energy research is accelerating thanks to the renovation of the Earle M. Jorgensen Laboratory. Transformed into a cutting-edge facility for energy science, the lab unites two powerhouse programs: the Resnick Sustainability Institute and the Joint Center for Artificial Photosynthesis (JCAP).
At the lab's dedication on Friday, October 19, the public and the campus community toured the building and learned about the research happening there. "It is easy to grow cynical in the face of the challenges that humanity faces when we think about transitioning towards a sustainable energy future," said Caltech president Jean-Lou Chameau at the event. "Caltech is uniquely positioned to address such a global challenge."
Inside the newly renovated lab, teams of students, postdoctoral scholars, staff researchers, and faculty are working to invent revolutionary, clean, inexpensive methods for the generation of fuels and power. Through the Jorgensen renovation, researchers have gained new prototyping facilities for turning lab breakthroughs into market-ready inventions and experimental systems that are helping speed work on some of the toughest problems in energy science. These facilities include an advanced and customized ink-jet printer with which researchers can fabricate more than 100,000 sample materials per day. Each day, thousands of these materials can be tested for their ability to absorb light or to serve as catalysts for water-splitting—crucial steps in generating fuel from sunlight.
"Our researchers are working with Caltech's chemists and chemical engineers to challenge the status quo and translate scientific discovery into clean-energy innovations that will directly benefit society for generations to come," says Ares Rosakis, EAS division chair and the Theodore von Kármán Professor of Aeronautics and professor of mechanical engineering.
"This facility capitalizes on Caltech's extraordinarily collaborative culture. It equips our students and faculty to come together across fields to develop novel and viable approaches to renewable energy technologies," adds Jackie Barton, CCE division chair and the Arthur and Marian Hanisch Memorial Professor and professor of chemistry.
JCAP, a U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) Energy Innovation Hub, is the nation's largest research effort focused on artificial photosynthesis. Its researchers aim to create a low-cost generator that uses sunlight, carbon dioxide, and water to make fuels—after which they hope to hand that prototype off to private-sector companies to launch a new solar-fuels industry.
"We would think about our energy problem so differently if we could get this card on the table," says Nate Lewis, JCAP director and Caltech's George L. Argyros Professor and professor of chemistry.
The Resnick Institute, for its part, is set up to foster Caltech-based research collaborations that have the potential to develop renewable-energy technologies that can be scaled up to power the planet.
Research supported by the Resnick Institute will yield tangible benefits even faster thanks to the new facilities, says Harry Atwater, the institute's director and Caltech's Howard Hughes Professor and professor of applied physics and materials science. He predicts, "Caltech will do for energy in the twenty-first century what it did for physics in the twentieth: reinvent it."
"We are passionately committed to finding alternative and sustainable energy solutions, and developing the breakthrough technologies we need to address the daunting challenges of energy security, rapidly accelerating energy demand, and climate change," said founding donors Lynda and Stewart Resnick in a statement. "We can think of no better partner in these efforts than Caltech."
The renovation walks its sustainability talk, even beyond its reuse of a midcentury laboratory. Project managers used sustainable materials, kept 82 percent of construction waste out of landfills, and donated the lab's old furniture. The lab now has high-efficiency lighting and HVAC systems, a living roof featuring evergreen and drought-tolerant grasses, and water-saving plumbing and landscaping. "The goal is LEED Platinum certification," says Ken Hargreaves, Caltech's senior director of facilities design and construction.
Support from the Resnicks, the Gordon and Betty Moore Foundation and the Moores themselves, the Department of Energy, The Ahmanson Foundation, and others made this renovation—and its corresponding acceleration of science—possible.
"To move from petroleum and fossil-fuel dependence to a renewable, sustainable energy economy will require new discoveries across a wide range of disciplines," said W. F. Brinkman, director of the Department of Energy Office of Science, in a letter shared at the building dedication. "There is no doubt that the California Institute of Technology is in the very forefront of this research effort, mobilizing a formidable array of talent and resources in the quest for the energy technologies of the future."