A team of researchers from the Harvard University’s Faculty of Arts and Sciences, Harvard Medical School (HMS) and the Wyss Institute for Biologically Inspired Engineering has developed an innovative device for converting solar energy into liquid fuel, mimicking the photosynthetic powers of chlorophyll. Termed as a ‘bionic leaf’, the new system uses a combination of genetically engineered bacteria and a solar-powered catalyzer to create fuel from sunlight. With the help of carbon dioxide and water, the device forms isopropanol which is an alcohol-based fuel. It is, in fact, the main component of rubbing alcohol.
The bionic leaf imitates the process of photosynthesis. One of the researchers involved in the breakthrough, Dan Nocera from Harvard University, said that the creation of this artificial leaf system included a decade long process. The catalysts which have been used in the device are highly well-adapted and are compatible with the conditions required for the growth of bacteria.
The catalyst, in the new system, splits water into hydrogen and oxygen atoms. The hydrogen is then utilized by a bacterium called Ralstonia eutrophathe, which combines it with carbon dioxide, converting it into isopropanol. Pamela Silver, Professor of Biochemistry and Systems Biology at HMS commented “This is a proof of concept that you can have a way of harvesting solar energy and storing it in the form of a liquid fuel. It’s not like we’re trying to make some super-convoluted system. Instead, we are looking for simplicity and ease of use.”