Researchers Develop Artificial Photosynthesis That May Help Energy Industry

Researchers Develop Artificial Photosynthesis That May Help Energy Industry

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Researchers have developed a nanosystem that successfully mimics the natural process of photosynthesis.

Researchers from the U.S. Department of Energy’s Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory and the University of California, Berkeley have developed a system of artificial photosynthesis that can collect carbon dioxide before it escapes into our atmosphere as a greenhouse gas and convert it to useful products including drugs and alternative fuels.

Peidong Yang, a professor at the University of California, Berkeley, and one of the members of the study, said, “We believe our system is a revolutionary leap forward in the field of artificial photosynthesis. Our system has the potential to fundamentally change the chemical and oil industry in that we can produce chemicals and fuels in a totally renewable way, rather than extracting them from deep below the ground.”

Photosynthesis is the process used by plants to take energy from sunlight and synthesize carbohydrates out of water and carbon dioxide. The hybrid system, which was developed by researchers, mimics photosynthesis. However, the CO2 and water are used to synthesis acetate, a basic building block for biosynthesis.

The researchers stated that the technique utilizes an artificial forest of silicon and titanium oxide nanowires, which function much like chloroplasts in green leaves. The anaerobic bacteria, Sporomusa ovate, are buried in these tall nanowire structures. When sunlight is absorbed by these semiconducting nanowires, electrons and electron holes are generated. The electrons are passed to the bacteria for carbon dioxide reduction. This results in the production of a biosynthetic intermediate, while the holes split water molecules to produce oxygen.

“We are currently working on our second-generation system which has a solar-to-chemical conversion efficiency of 3%. Once we can reach a conversion efficiency of 10% in a cost-effective manner, the technology should be commercially viable,” added Yang.

The findings were published in the journal Nano Letters.