BERKELEY (CBS SF) – Imagine if, instead of using solar panels to capture the power of the sun, you could store that sunlight in a chemical battery for use whenever you want? That’s the technology they are developing at a pioneering new center at the Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory dedicated Tuesday.

The facility is named for former Cal lab director and Secretary of Energy Dr. Steven Chu. Inside Chu Hall, researchers are turning sunlight into electricity ten times more efficiently than plants do it in a form that can power vehicles much more cheaply than we do now.

“This is really about capturing energy and putting it into a high density form that you can use anywhere around the world,” Chu said. “It’s only when you do that that you can begin to completely offload fossil fuels.”

The new Solar Energy Research Center, located at 1 Cyclotron Road, has the goal of building a prototype for an artificial photosystem that can produce fuel from sunlight that is 10 times more efficient than current technology.

Chu told KCBS that the program is about nothing less than “saving the world.”

“The building houses the lab’s programs in the Joint Center for Artificial Photosynthesis (JCAP), a Department of Energy hub led by the California Institute of Technology, with Berkeley Lab as a major partner,” reports the Lawrence Berkeley Lab.

The structure will house about 100 researchers working to find a solar alternative to fossil fuels.

“We believe the opening of this building will provide a significant boost to solar fuels research,” Lab Director Paul Alivisatos said of the project. “It puts our researchers, from various disciplines, together in a single space, close to UC Berkeley and Berkeley Lab colleagues studying similar challenges.”

The three-story, nearly 40,000 square-foot, building cost $59 million with funding coming from the University of California and other public and private entities, according