NREL's Vision for the Future: Electrons to Molecules (Text Version)

This is the text version of a video about one of NREL's critical research objectives: Electrons to Molecules.

Video opens with a drawing of a globe surrounded by household items we purchase or use every day.

Almost every product we use comes from fossil sources.

Our cars, clothes, and household chemicals all rely on industrial processes that pull carbon from the ground and pollute the atmosphere with greenhouse gases.

Several drawings of factories with smokestacks fill the screen to illustrate carbon used to make products and producing greenhouse emissions. Two researchers fade into the scene.

But what if we could reverse this cycle of extract and emit, by capturing waste carbon and converting it into industrial products using renewable energy?

Two researchers stand in front of a whiteboard and desk performing calculations and research.

This is the sustainable future envisioned by NREL's critical research area Electrons to Molecules.

At NREL, we are discovering innovative methods that replace fossil carbon with clean and affordable energy sources for industrial feedstocks and fuels.

Wind turbines and solar arrays are shown producing energy that can then convert water and CO2 into higher-value chemicals.

With abundant energy from the wind and sun, we can electrically transform low-energy molecules like water and CO2  into fundamentally important chemicals like hydrogen, formic acid, methane, and methanol.

Two researchers return with clipboards and stand in front of mechanical equipment.

And with help from cutting-edge biological or catalytic processes, some of which depend on billion-year-old microorganism species, we can upgrade chemicals into high-value products that serve day-to-day needs.

Three researchers stand in front of wind turbines and solar arrays and other equipment as they produce energy.

For example, NREL is using low-cost renewable electricity to split water into oxygen and hydrogen.

We serve that hydrogen along with captured waste-carbon to naturally occurring organisms, which digest the meal to make methane, the main chemical in natural gas and many other applications.

From renewable electrons to molecules, the process is carbon-neutral and emission-free.

Factory and conveyor belts return, this time surrounded by solar arrays, wind turbines, and trees.

Looking out at the full landscape of chemical pathways, there is almost unlimited potential to drive industrial processes with clean energy and captured waste—not only for carbon but for all fundamental chemicals of our economy like ammonia, hydrogen, methanol, metals, and the products they form.

Crossfades to a ship steering wheel among ocean waves as a sun begins to rise.

As we set a course toward a clean energy future for the world, NREL is innovating to steer us away from our dependence on fossil carbon and redesign energy systems to be entirely sustainable from start to finish.

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