A New Reusable Energy Source Emerges, Artificial Photosynthesis

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The future of sustainable fuel suffered a major breakthrough recently, one made possible by an international team of scientists. The major milestone was reached through copying plants, which use the cleanest energy produced on this planet.

Scientists from Cambridge and the Ruhr University in Bochum put their minds together and discovered a technique capable of mimicking the process of photosynthesis which occurs naturally in plants. This technique allows for the production of hydrogen fuel, which doesn’t emit any carbon dioxide and it is essentially unlimited.

Published in Nature Energy, the paper explains the proof-of-principle method necessary for splitting up water molecules into individual atoms of hydrogen and oxygen by using sunlight. Basically, it is a mirror technique based on photosynthesis, the plant’s process through which they split water molecules as they convert sunlight into energy required for their feeding.

The study’s lead author, Erwin Reisner, told Newsweek that solar fuel synthesis, which has solar energy converted into renewable fuels and chemicals, represents an important strategy for powering up our society in a post-fossil era.

As techniques to achieve artificial photosynthesis have existed for decades, it is not the effect itself that is revolutionary. The importance of the discovery is its partly natural, partly artificial approach. It marks the first time man has made a photosynthesis method modeled specifically to make renewable energy.

Making it completely artificial would make it a too complex process because of the requirements for problematic catalyst materials which are tricky to work with, creating significant challenges. They can be either too expensive or too toxic to use or they may just not work altogether, making them unrealistic for commercial use or other forms of wide-scale applications. That’s why scientists took a look at natural enzymes which are abundant and efficient as well, arriving at the conclusion that they are the perfect solution for sustainable solar fuel synthesis.


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