Projections of world economic activity point to a global increase in energy demand of at least 50% over the next 20 years, possibly up to a staggering two- to three-fold increase to over 30 trillion watts by 2050.
At the same time, fossil fuel use will need to decrease to a fraction of current levels. Solar energy offers at least a part of the solution – every hour the amount of energy from the sun reaching the earth’s surface is enough to meet mankind’s energy demand for a year. We need to develop ways of using this limitless supply of energy more effectively, more extensively and more efficiently.
One approach is to explore the potential of microalgae for harnessing solar energy: the production of biodiesel, also using waste CO2 from industrial plants; and in an integrated biorefinery with additional products (e.g. fertilizers and methane) from biomass digestion.
We are also exploring the development, usage and application of a range of photovoltaic devices that directly convert sunlight into electricity. The programme includes the development of low-cost systems incorporating new types of plastics as well as totally new applications involving organic materials and biomolecules.