As countries around the world move to increase their renewable energy capabilities, the question of energy storage becomes essential. One potential solution to this problem is converting solar energy into chemical energy, allowing that energy to be used when it is needed, even when the sun is no longer shining.
This is a problem being worked on by Professor Gunther Andersson, who is using gold nano-clusters to improve the efficiency of producing methane and methanol using solar energy. Using these clusters of just a few gold atoms each, Professor Andersson has been able to produce around ten times more product than what a regular catalyst could produce. The research is now being funded by the US Army, who are interested in using the process to allow their troops to store energy in the field.
Future research with these clusters will involve scaling up the process to assess its potential for large-scale applications. You can read more on this research on The Lead