Resnick Institute

Press Releases


Energy and Environmental Sustainability Demand International Community Work Together to Conquer Tough Challenges


In order to achieve important breakthroughs that will have substantial impact on the earth’s sustainability, international organizations must work together, said Dr. Harry A. Atwater, Director of Caltech’s Resnick Sustainability Institute and Howard Hughes Professor of Applied Physics. He was speaking at a gathering of the Caltech-Taiwan Energy Exchange (CTEE) in Taiwan.

“The sustainability challenges that face the world are huge,” said Atwater. “No single country or institution can solve these alone. Success demands extreme creativity, the sharing of perspectives and new ideas, and the solutions must be implemented globally.”

Caltech and a consortium of Taiwanese National Universities are collaborating on an international, multi-pronged energy research program. The CTEE teams faculty from universities in Taiwan with their counterparts at Caltech to investigate projects in six key sustainable energy technology areas including fuel cells, photovoltaics (PV), thermoelectrics, CO2 sequestration/porous media, biofuels, and the smart grid. Supported by Taiwan's National Science council and leveraging the endowed support of the Resnick Sustainability Institute, the collaboration provides an exceptional opportunity for scientists from both nations to learn from each other while developing critical technologies.

Taiwan has a unique history in manufacturing, which combines deep knowledge of materials, other complex physics disciplines, and equipment development and management. This expertise can be applied in many ways to alternative energy science. Moreover, Taiwan is in a strong position to see challenges in various fast-growing regions of Asia through a valuable lens. The combination of these strengths with those of Caltech which combines scientific expertise from many disciplines contributes significantly to the potential of meaningful breakthroughs in the long term.

Atwater explained that the goal of the CTEE is to accelerate the pace of discovery in sustainability science while developing strong ties internationally. A key part of this is to encourage young scientists from each country to spend time sharing techniques and ideas with their counterparts within the program. For example, at the recent meeting, there was news of various scientific breakthroughs such as the integration of photonic light trapping structures into tandem-thin-film amorphous silicon solar cells; the demonstration of a 2x improvement in bio-feedstock conversion rates using enzymes developed in the biofuels collaboration; and the discovery of new materials with the potential to capture CO2 directly from power-plant exhaust before it dissipates into the atmosphere.

“Young scientists who are conquering the environmental issues for the world in which their children will live are likely to bring important new ways of thinking to this vast challenge,” said Atwater. “We have a mission to encourage these and other scientists around the world to look hard at these problems.”

About The Resnick Sustainability Institute

The Resnick Institute is Caltech’s studio focused on the breakthroughs that will change the balance of the world’s sustainability. It marries bold creativity and deep scientific knowledge by encouraging original thinking and orthogonal ideas. The Resnick Institute works with some of the world’s top and emerging scientists—at the California Institute of Technology and beyond. Current projects at the Resnick Institute include research into energy generation, such as advanced photovoltaics, photoelectrochemical solar fuels, cellulosic biofuels, and wind energy system design; energy conversion work on batteries and fuel cells; and energy efficiency and management such as fuel efficient vehicles, green chemical synthesis, thermoelectric materials, and advanced research on electrical grid control and distribution. The Resnick Institute is also the founder of the “Resonate Award” for leading innovations in sustainability science.