The conversion of solar energy into electricity is the focus of significant research and commercial enterprise. This could be an important component of distributed generation as part of an overall Smart Grid management method. A more recent and intriguing subject, still in early research, is the possibility of converting the photons into fuel directly. One can think of this as artificial photosynthesis, with devices mimicking plant action. The end product can be hydrogen, or, if waste CO2 is also utilized, carbohydrates or even hydrocarbons. The inclusion of this in the RTEC focus is largely because of technical leadership in the Triangle area.
In recognition of the importance of this field, RTEC spun off an entity known as the Research Triangle Solar Fuels Institute. As of 2018, this entity no longer exists, but work proceeds in member institutions.