Scientists show nature who’s boss with super-efficient bionic leaf
We have all learned about the photosynthesis process. A plant combines sunlight, water, and carbon dioxide from the air to generate food for itself or better, a fuel. Photosynthesis is truly a miracle of nature but now scientists have combined biology with chemistry to replicate the process and have claimed to have improved it even further.
Chemist Daniel Nocera and biologist Pamela Silver of Harvard University have created a bionic leaf which is a living battery. It’s a device that uses solar energy to power a chemical reaction that splits water into oxygen and hydrogen and then adds pre-starved microbes to feed on the hydrogen and convert CO2 in the air into alcohol fuels.
Digital photosynthesis has been a subject of interest for scientists for a long time and they have been working with a bacterium called Ralstonia eutropha, which can carry out this process. But providing this bacterium with the necessary ingredients proved to be complicated. The catalysts used to assist the reaction that splits water and carbon dioxide molecules would produce toxins that in turn killed the bacteria before the process could complete.
Nocera, improved on this process where he used a catalyst made of cobalt and phosphorus, which gives a boost to the water-splitting reaction without killing the rest of the system. This process is said to be 10 times better than plants in converting sunlight into biomass. The system also produces a bunch of useful compounds like isobutanol, and the molecule PHB, which can be used to make biodegradable plastic. If this process is scaled out, it can create a substantial amount of renewable energy.
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