The high energy density of fossil fuels has dictated the nature of energy manufacturing for the past century. Large centralized chemical plants for processing and inter-conversion of energy take advantage of economics-of-scale to minimize the contribution of capital investment and processing costs to the final total cost to consumers. As we necessarily transition to energy forms that are less dense, the paradigm for energy manufacturing will have to change dramatically: we will need transformative, multi-disciplinary research programs to support it.
In March 2009 at NSF in Arlington VA, and again in January 2011 at the CMMI Grantee Conference in Atlanta GA, two workshops were organized to formulate research directions for the challenges in manufacturing systems for energy conversion. The first workshop was organized around one specific energy source, direct sunlight, and two specific energy conversion approaches, photovoltaics and algae. The second workshop addressed themes that emerged from the first workshop that seemed common aspects of manufacturing, such as the production of large areas of textured surfaces, separation processes for recovering algae from dilute systems, and materials handling of thin substrates.
The presentations of the workshops are linked here:
And a white paper that was written after the first workshop is also available here