Will Artificial Plants Fuel our Future? Quite Literally!

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Semiconductor nanowires and bacteria efficiently convert sunlight and CO2 into fuels. The figure above is an artist's conception of bacteria wrapping themselves around nanowires to feed on their electrons in the natural-synthetic photosynthesis system. Credit: University of California, Berkley
Semiconductor nanowires and bacteria efficiently convert sunlight and CO2 into fuels.
The figure above is an artist’s conception of bacteria wrapping themselves around nanowires to feed on their electrons in the natural-synthetic photosynthesis system.
Credit: University of California, Berkley

Solar energy or the energy obtained by the sun’s ray is a very common source of renewable energy in use today. Although it has been harnessed, its widespread use is still limited. To make better use of solar energy, the natural process of photosynthesis in which plants convert carbon-di-oxide (CO2) and water into sugar has inspired researchers for many years.

In a one-of-a-kind report, Peidong Yang, co-director of the Kavli Energy NanoSciences Institute and Professor of chemistry at the University of California, Berkeley, and his team have now developed a completely artificial plant that can convert CO2 and water into natural gas or gasoline in the presence of sunlight. This completely artificial system uses long, nanometer sized semi-conductor filaments to turn sunlight into electrons, which bacteria use to convert carbon dioxide and water into butanol fuel and more complex molecules such as acetate, a chemical building block, and amorphadiene, which is used to make antimalarial drugs.

In August, Yang’s team used a similar approach to make methane-a very important component of natural gas by splitting water into hydrogen and oxygen by using sun’s rays and then producing methane from CO2 with the use of hydrogen loving bacteria.

In traditional solar powered devices, the energy produced need to be effectively stored in batteries. Yang believes that this artificial photosynthesis solves the problem of energy conversion and storage in one step in terms of converting and storing solar energy in the chemical bonds of organic molecules. Ted Sargent, a professor of electrical and computer engineering at the University of Toronto explains that synthetic photosynthesis is a carbon-neutral solution. Supporting this claim, he states that this system would take one CO2 molecule out of the atmosphere for every CO2 molecule that is returned during combustion of fuels.

The artificial plant is a breakthrough in artificial photosynthesis research. Yang believes that apart from exploring the depths of the photosynthetic process, this system could lay the platform for the synthesis of important organic compounds at a lower cost.

Credit: University of California, Berkley

Source: livescience.com

Original article : NanoLetters

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