Energy

Scientists Say This ‘Bionic Leaf’ Can Create Liquid Fuel Using Sunlight

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Craig Boudreau Vice Reporter
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A Harvard professor and his colleague have produced a “bionic leaf” that is ten times more efficient at photosynthesis than nature itself.

Daniel Nocera of Harvard Faculty of Arts and Sciences and Pamela Silver of Harvard Medical School used carbon dioxide, water, and sunlight to create liquid fuel from photosynthesis.

Researchers argue this new technology could be a way to deal with increases in atmospheric carbon dioxide. Alternative fuels like ethanol require using crops, which subsequently makes food prices more expensive, but this new technology would alleviate that issue, pulling CO2 right from the air itself.

Silver said in Harvard Magazine the ultimate goal is not to just produce fuel, but vitamins and drugs. Stating how fuel is “cheap” and that it is the basis for many wars, she hopes to produce “high value commodities” like drugs in remote places that otherwise wouldn’t have access to them.

Other ‘”bionic leaf” technology was only able to produce hydrogen gas, which would then need to be converted into liquid, making this new bionic leaf a great innovation. This also stands as a great innovation for the solar industry, as this could be a better way of capturing the Suns energy than conventional solar cells.

The leaf is placed between two layers of a metal oxide catalyst and then submerged in room temperature water where it then mimics photosynthesis. They first split water molecules into oxygen and hydrogen, then take the hydrogen and feeds that to bacteria, along with carbon dioxide. Then a specially designed bacteria converts the carbon dioxide and hydrogen into isopropyl alcohol.

The high performance of this system is unparalleled” Peidong Yang of UC Berkley told technologyreview.com. Where nature usually yields a 1% efficiency rating in converting sunlight into energy, this new technology was able to produce a staggering 10%. Nocera says 10% is just the beginning, he hopes to be able to obtain up to an 80% efficiency rating.

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