Converting Sunlight into Fuel
This is a guest blog by Pooja.
With the increase in the world’s population, the need for energy has also increased. The best way to fulfill this need is to have a sustainable way to produce energy that produces less waste and decreases or eliminates the emission of carbon dioxide. Using solar energy can fulfill all these conditions.
We have been using solar energy for producing electricity with the help of solar panels. Even though it is a clean and renewable energy source, it is expensive too. Thus, scientists have developed another way of using solar energy, that is, sunlight, for producing fuel. It is done by altering the photosynthesis process of the plants.
As we all know photosynthesis is a process in which plants produce glucose, taking carbon dioxide and water using sunlight. It also produces oxygen as a by-product when the water is absorbed by the plants and is split. When the water is split, hydrogen is also produced but in less amount. This hydrogen can be used as a green and an unlimited source of renewable energy.
A study led by academics of St John’s College, University of Cambridge, developed a new semi-artificial photosynthesis, which is based on natural photosynthesis, creating a new way to produce and store solar energy.
Let us get into details if this semi-artificial photosynthesis. In this process, natural sunlight is used to convert water into hydrogen and oxygen with the help of a few biological components and human-made technologies. Artificial photosynthesis is not a new concept. It has been around for decades. It did not gain that much success because the catalysts, which were used in that process for the production of energy, were often expensive and toxic. Thus, it was a tough task to produce energy using artificial synthesis on a large scale. The limitations of fully artificial photosynthesis are overcome by the introduction of semi-artificial photosynthesis which uses some enzymes to get the desired reaction.
Katarzyna Sokól, first author of the paper published in Nature Energy, outlining this unassisted solar driven water-splitting method, and PhD student at St John’s College, explained how does semi-artificial photosynthesis work. According to her, what they actually did was that they reactivated a process in algae that has been a big factor constraining to achieve artificial photosynthesis. An enzyme present in algae, known as Hydrogenase, is capable of reducing protons into hydrogen. During the evolution of living beings, it has been deactivated as it was not a necessity for survival. The team of the scientists achieved the reaction they wanted, that is, splitting the water into hydrogen and oxygen, by bypassing this inactivity. The model developed by the scientist of the University of Cambridge has used Hydrogenase and photosystem II to create semi-artificial photosynthesis carried out only by solar power, and they succeeded in it.
Sun: Future Source of Energy
In this era of transformation and growth, energy is the basic need. We need sustainable and renewable energy. Hydrogen is a clean fuel, and that is the reason new automobiles have been introduced which use hydrogen as a fuel. Using semi-artificial photosynthesis for producing hydrogen is a new, inexpensive and non-toxic procedure. Thus, this research is a great breakthrough.