Artificial photosynthesis has been in the spotlight for quite some time. Typically it is associated with splitting the water molecule into hydrogen and oxygen via some sort of a solar technology. The produced hydrogen is then used into fuel cells.
A team of scientists at Harvard, decided to take this concept a lot further. They made a bionic leaf, which basically outperforms nature in the conversion of light into biomass. What is more, it actually generates liquid biofuel. Here is the whole story.
The first time we heard about Harvard’s technology was last year, when their bionic leaf was officially shown to the world. Already then, the technology was able to not only perform artificial photosynthesis, but it could also make liquid biofuel via special bacteria.
At that time, however, as it is with every first version of a great technology, there were some limitations that had to be overcome. The main problem was that the catalyst that was used to produce the hydrogen, produced a type of highly reactive oxygen as well. This in turn attacked the DNA of the bacteria, essentially reducing the efficiency of the system. Another limitation was that the leaf could turn solar energy only into isopropanol.
One year down the line, and we already have the new and improved version 2.0 of the bionic leaf, which managed to not only surprise potential buyers and curious scientists, but also the makers themselves.
Firstly, the new leaf is able to outperform nature in converting light into biomass. The efficiency is the incredible 10%, which is about 10 times more than the fastest growing plants on the planet.
Secondly, the catalyst has been replaced with one that no longer affects the bacteria. This resulted in much better efficiency of the system, and allows the making of many other products including isobutanol, isopentanol and PHB, a bio-plastic precursor. Still on the catalysts, this new one does not leach anything into the solution and it can practically heal itself.
Even though the makers are convinced that the system can be improved even further, they know that it is already suitable for many low-cost commercial applications.
This is a truly incredible and innovative technology, which has proudly won its place in the most prestigious journal Science.
Image (c) Harvard/ Science