When it comes developing renewable energy, there’s nothing like turning over a new leaf — or an old leaf — for inspiration. Heck, wherever there’s chlorophyll and photosynthesis, there’s an idea waiting to bud.
That seems to be the method of thinking for a group of researchers at the University of East Anglia (UEA) who are undertaking a $1.26 million project to replicate photosynthesis, the process by which — if you recall from Biology 101– plants transform sunlight into energy so they can grow.
Lead by researcher and professor Julea Butt, the project aims to create hydrogen to be used as zero-emission car fuel or converted into green energy.
“We will build a system for artificial photosynthesis by placing tiny solar-panels on microbes,” Butt said in a UEA press release. “These will harness sunlight and drive the production of hydrogen, from which the technologies to release energy on demand are well-advanced.”
UEA’s project, which will be collaboration with the University of Leeds and the University of Cambridge, is the latest attempt by a growing number of scientists who are researching ways to develop clean, sustainable energy from photosynthesis. Researchers at Imperial College London and the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) have also explored similar technology.
“Many renewable energy supplies, such as sunlight, wind and the waves, remain largely untapped resources,” Butt said. “This is mainly due to the challenges that exist in converting these energy forms into fuels from which energy can be released on demand.”
She added: “We imagine that our photocatalysts will prove versatile and that with slight modification they will be able to harness solar energy for the manufacture of carbon-based fuels, drugs and fine chemicals.”
The project is funded by the Biotechnology & Biological Sciences Research Council.
Credit: Ryan McVay