Scientists Find New Way to Turn Sunlight Into Fuel: Here’s How

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While solar power is an efficient alternative to all the non-renewable resources, Scientists have been working hard to discover new and more effective processes of extracting it. The quest to find new ways to harness solar power has taken a step forward after researchers successfully split water into hydrogen and oxygen by altering the photosynthetic machinery in plants. Finally, the quest of harnessing solar power in different ways has got a renewed hope.

The latest study by the researchers of the University of Cambridge put semi-artificial photosynthesis to use to formulate a new strategy of producing and storing solar energy. The academics used a blend of modern technologies and biological components to convert water into hydrogen and oxygen from natural sunlight. The methodology also resulted in more absorption of sunlight in comparison to the natural process of photosynthesis.

Photosynthesis is the process plants use to convert sunlight into energy. Oxygen is produced as a by-product of photosynthesis when the water absorbed by plants is ‘split’. It is one of the most important reactions on the planet because it is the source of nearly all of the world’s oxygen. Hydrogen which is produced when the water is split could potentially be a green and unlimited source of renewable energy.

Artificial photosynthesis has been around for decades but it has not yet been successfully used to create renewable energy because it relies on the use of catalysts, which are often expensive and toxic. This means it can’t yet be used to scale up findings to an industrial level. Hydrogenase is an enzyme present in algae that is capable of reducing protons into hydrogen. The study findings were published in the journal Nature Energy.

The Cambridge research is a part of the emerging field of semi-artificial photosynthesis which aims to overcome the limitations of fully artificial photosynthesis by using enzymes to create the desired reaction. The approach could be used to couple other reactions together to see what can be done, learn from these reactions and then build synthetic, more robust pieces of solar energy technology.

Researcher Katarzyna Soko along with her team managed to reactivate a process in the algae that has been dormant for millennia. Researchers are now hopeful that innovative model systems for solar energy conversion can be developed through the findings. This is first of its kind model to use hydrogenase and photosystem II for creating semi-artificial photosynthesis supported entirely by solar power.