Q&A with Devens Gust
Dr. Devens Gust is Foundation Professor of Chemistry and Biochemistry. His research seeks to mimic the key processes of photosynthesis to create usable fuel from the sun.
At what point did “sustainability” become part of your research vocabulary?
The 1970s oil embargo made it obvious that we had to develop a more sustainable energy policy and I thought I could contribute through my expertise in organic and photochemistry. I have been working in the area ever since.
What is the most important sustainability-related research project you are currently working on?
I am director of the new ASU Energy Frontier Research Center for Bio-inspired Solar Fuel Production, funded by the Department of Energy. Our goal is to use the basic science underlying natural photosynthesis to find new approaches for producing renewable fuel such as hydrogen, which is a good medium for storing solar energy. The $14 million project involves 11 faculty members from different disciplines and will also employ and train undergraduates, graduate students, and postdoctoral associates in renewable energy science.
How do you think your research will affect decisions in the "real world"?
We depend ultimately on the sun for almost all of the energy we use today — even fossil fuels are the product of ancient photosynthetic energy conversion. Producing useful energy from sunlight is technologically feasible, but current approaches are still too expensive to compete. Our research is devoted to developing the science behind new technologies that will be cheap and efficient. If we are successful, new energy industries and government policies will follow.
What is the world sustainability challenge that concerns you most?
Humanity badly needs a source of energy that is abundant, renewable, inexpensive, clean, and local. The sun is currently the only source that can produce such energy in sufficient quantities, but to make it usable requires not only new technologies, but new fundamental scientific discoveries. We must meet this challenge very soon because our environment, geopolitical situation, and quality of life depend on it.
May 29, 2009