BERKELEY (CBS SF) – A ribbon-cutting ceremony was held Thursday for a facility in Berkeley that will develop new methods to generate fuels directly from sunlight.

Officials at the Joint Center for Artificial Photosynthesis said their goal is to replace fossil fuels with fuels that are clean, green and renewable and reduce the nation’s dependence on oil.

The new 18,000-square-foot facility was made possible by a $122 million award by the U.S. Department of Energy that will pay for its first five years of operations.

The center will be led by the California Institute of Technology in partnership with the Department of Energy’s Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory.

KCBS’ Margie Shafer Reports:

Facility leaders said they will bring together leading researchers in an effort aimed at simulating nature’s photosynthetic apparatus for practical energy production.

They say they plan to develop an integrated solar energy-to-chemical fuel conversion system and move it from the bench-top discovery phase to a scale where it can be commercialized.

Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory spokesman Jon Weiner said, “We’re trying to mimic mother nature.”

However, he said it is unclear how long it will take to achieve that goal.

Weiner said the facility, which will begin operating in the near future, will eventually house more than 40 students and technical staff along with nearly 30 senior scientists.

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