Semi-Artificial Photosynthesis: Scientists On The Right Track To Turning Sunlight into Fuel

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Photosynthesis is the well-known process the plants use to transform the sunlight into the vital energy they need to survive. Now, scientists from St. John’s College, University of Cambridge, managed to make a breakthrough in turning sunlight into fuel by creating machinery that uses semi-artificial photosynthesis.

The researchers managed to use sunlight to turn water into hydrogen and oxygen by employing a combination of biological components and human-made technologies. Using this semi-artificial photosynthesis method, the scientists generated even more energy than the natural photosynthesis.

“Natural photosynthesis is not efficient because it has evolved merely to survive so it makes the bare minimum amount of energy needed – around 1-2 percent of what it could potentially convert and store,” said Katarzyna Soko, the study’s leading author, and a Ph.D. student at St John’s College.

Scientists developed a working semi-artificial photosynthesis system to transform sunlight into fuel

Although it has been around for decades, artificial photosynthesis is far from being used at an industrial level because it’s not yet very successful in producing renewable energy since it’s relying on catalysts which are toxic, above all. However, the study conducted by St. John’s College, University of Cambridge, is a critical step toward the use of semi-artificial photosynthesis based on enzymes from algae to turn the sunlight into fuel. That would be ideal for the production of green energy.

“Hydrogenase is an enzyme present in algae that is capable of reducing protons into hydrogen. During evolution, this process has been deactivated because it wasn’t necessary for survival, but we successfully managed to bypass the inactivity to achieve the reaction we wanted – splitting water into hydrogen and oxygen,” Soko said.

This newly developed model is the first and only in the world to use hydrogenase to produce semi-artificial photosynthesis driven by the sunlight alone.

“This work overcomes many difficult challenges associated with the integration of biological and organic components into inorganic materials for the assembly of semi-artificial devices and opens up a toolbox for developing future systems for solar energy conversion,” concluded Dr. Erwin Reisner, a researcher at St John’s College, University of Cambridge.

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