It’s a bionic leaf that could revolutionize everything we thought we knew about clean energy.
Harvard scientists open the door to an energetic revolution that has allowed them to test successfully a system that converts sunlight into liquid fuel.
In other words, the chemist who gave us the artificial leaf a couple of years ago has GENETICALLY ENGINEERED A BACTERIUM to absorb hydrogen and carbon dioxide converting them into alcohol fuel.
The first demonstration of the so-called artificial leaf, or bionic sheet, made of silicone, took place almost five years ago by a team from the Faculty of Science at Harvard University, led by Professor Daniel Nocera.
“Right now we’re making isopropanol, isobutanol, isopentanol,” he said in a lecture to the Energy Policy Institute at Chicago. “These are all alcohols you can burn directly. And it’s coming from hydrogen from split water, and it’s breathing in CO2. That’s what this bug’s doing.”
It seems that there may be a really viable alternative to drilling Earth’s surface in the search for fuel.
Tha answer to clean energy may not be found in the wind but in the sky.
And no, we are not talking directly about solar energy –which today provides limited and costly amounts of energy that cannot meet the abundant human needs – but we are referring to making better use of solar energy that will allow us to transform it into a liquid fuel. In fact, it’s as easy –and complex— as mimicking their process of photosynthesis of plants.
In fact, it’s not difficult to imagine the revolution that could strike society if researchers manage to come up with the ability to generate clean energy in industrial quantities like this.
Initially, we are talking about how prices of other fuels would drastically fall, and climate change would enter into a whole different dimension as people switch from ‘toxic’ fuels to clean energy.
First, researchers managed to create an artificial leaf that is able to successfully reproduce the phenomenon that leafs and plants carry out naturally.
So far, thy type of ‘artificial leaf’ has allowed researchers to convert natural light into hydrogen and fabricate fuel cells.
Now, researchers are screaming out success as they have kick started and implemented a new system that converts solar energy into a fuel such as isopropanol.
It is a colorless alcohol that can be used as fuel, similar to ethanol or gasoline. This type of fuel is separated from water using salt.
Continued research has allowed the new method to get to an efficiency of above 10 %, way above the initially a% scientists previously attributed to plants.
An improvement to the catalyst and the incorporation of a bacterium has allowed researchers to complete a nearly perfect energy production cycle.
The system makes it possible that from the sunlight that the leaves receive –as if they were solar panles— the catalyst jumps into action dividing water into hydrogen and oxygen.
The combination of the resulting carbon dioxide and hydrogen, which by an enzyme (protein) is transformed into protons and electrons, ends up becoming biomass thanks to the intervention of the Ralstronia eutropha, a bacterium already well known in laboratories around the globe.
While the resulting liquid fuel in the experiment is isopropanol. This successful project opens the door to a completely new generation of substances. For example, in the near future, researchers will be able to work with isobutanol or the PBH molecule which could be used to manufacture biodegradable plastic.
The new research has been published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences (PNAS).