Since the early 1970s, scientists have been on a quest to develop a technology that could create liquid fuels out of carbon dioxide, water, and sunlight far more efficiently than photosynthesis, the process by which plants harness sunlight to produce carbohydrates and store energy. They call it the artificial leaf.
Natural photosynthesis is considered a good target for solar energy conversion, but it's already considered old hat. Harvard scientists have developed a leaf-like system that should be more effective at converting solar energy than plants themselves. The technology boils down to a jar of bacteria (Ralstonia eutropha), a cobalt water-splitting system and a pair of electrodes. When you send electricity through this partly biological system, the electrodes turn the water into hydrogen gas that you can use for fuel and carbon-based materials. It's only 10 percent efficient, but that's better than the widely established 8 percent baseline for real-world performance.
When I visited Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory in March, Frances Houle, the deputy director of the Joint Center for Artificial Photosynthesis, showed off one of the center's latest advances. It is a device that breaks down water into hydrogen and oxygen in sunlight. The lab's researchers had previously used artificial light to drive the process; this was the first time they were doing it with natural light. Fixed to a thin metal stand on the roof of the center's building above Berkeley, with a spectacular view west across San Francisco Bay, the small device has a solar cell that supplies the energy needed for a chemical catalyst to split the water. Created in 2010 under Secretary of Energy Steven Chu, the center, commonly called JCAP, has an audacious goal: to create fuels using only sunlight, carbon dioxide, and water (see "Artificial Photosynthesis Effort Takes Root").
Bacteria are not always harmful. Yes, certain bacteria cause diseases in animals and humans but over the years, scientists have found ways to turn them into a cyborg and make human life simpler. A research presented at the 254th National Meeting and Exposition of the American Chemical Society (ACS) on Tuesday reveals how bacteria can out beat plants at photosynthesis. Kelsey K. Sakimoto, who led the research at Yang's Lab, University of California, Berkeley, harnessed inorganic semiconductors on bacteria with an aim to produce useful chemicals from carbon dioxide and water. "Rather than rely on inefficient chlorophyll to harvest sunlight, I've taught bacteria how to grow and cover their bodies with tiny semiconductor nanocrystals," Sakimoto was quoted as saying in a news release published by the ACS.
Researchers have developed an artificial photosynthesis system that harvests light energy to produce hydrogen fuel. Photosynthesis is a chemical process used by plants to convert light energy, carbon dioxide and water into glucose for the plant to grow, releasing oxygen in the process. Researchers have run into challenges while trying to artificially replicate this process, but new research involving a'supramolecule' has managed to use light to produce hydrogen that could one day be used as fuel. In photosynthesis, the leaves of green plants contain hundreds of pigment molecules (chlorophyll and others) that absorb light at specific wavelengths. Photosynthesis is used by plants to harvest energy from light.