Mimicking nature has been man’s dream since he tried inventing the airplane, and even earlier. Mimicking a leaf for obtaining energy from the Sun has been even more challenging than learning to fly, though, until now, nobody succeeded imitating the evolution or creation or whatever our nature is made of.
Still, an international team of researchers managed to somehow modify an alga’s chlorophyll to resemble the extremely efficient light antennae of bacteria. The team was then able to determine the structure of these light antennae. This is the first step to converting sunlight into energy using an artificial leaf.
Scientists envision nano-scale artificial forests, that could produce fuels or other forms of clean energy, including electricity. To generate fuel from sunlight, besides the antenna you need a light-driven catalyst.
Green leaves, algae and bacteria contain chlorosomes, playing the role of light antennae. Chlorosomes are made up of chlorophyll molecules and are very sensitive to lighting, and work well even in the darkest conditions, such as deep in the sea. The researchers want to imitate chlorosomes through nanotechnology. Their minds are set on an alga named Spirulina (used in medicine to boost the immune system).
Professor Huub de Groot, one of the initiators of the research, says: “We already knew that the light antennae in bacteria form a structure rather like the annual rings of a tree trunk. The molecules in these semi-synthetic antennae seem to stack in a different way; they are flat. But this, too, is one of four ways we had thought in advance were possible.”
It’s interesting to hear that we’re again returning to the most common principle to solve the most complicated problem, that of energy production. I wonder if that isn’t the best way to live happily, after all…