Solar and wind power have one thing in common besides being renewable: When the sun isn’t shining or the wind isn’t blowing, they don’t generate electricity. But artificial photosynthesis may someday help change that.
We may not rely on fossil fuels anymore which is the number one cause of climate change.
Battery capability is being developed as a way to feed renewable power onto the power grid regardless of the weather or the time of day, to lessen reliance on carbon-emitting fossil fuels. But some scientists are looking to plants and trees for another solution — using a man-made leaf that can turn solar energy into fuel in the form of liquid sugars or carbohydrates.
In nature, plants use energy from the sun and convert it into chemical energy to be used later. Scientists at Caltech think they have discovered a missing link in the development of an artificial version of that process, according to the paper published this week in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.
“There are a lot of things we should be doing today that if we really wanted to lower carbon emissions we’d do already,” Nate Lewis, professor of chemistry at Caltech and co-author of the paper, said. “This isn’t one of those. This is the bridge. If you want to bring on renewables, you’ve got to find a way to store carbon-free power and got to get high-energy-density transportation fuels carbon-neutral. We have to be ready with technology that can do both of those things.”
Artificial photosynthesis is the leading candidate for that job, he said.
“The idea is that we want to take sunlight, water and potentially CO2 as the inputs and make fuel as the output,” Lewis said.
Other studies, including a Harvard University study published in February, have shown the promise of artificial photosynthesis through the use of a “bionic leaf” as a possible energy source.
That study shows how an artificial leaf could be used with a special bacterium to produce a liquid “solar fuel.”