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Solar Biofuel Generator Developed at Harvard

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Researchers-turn-solar-energy-into-liquid-fuelScientists from Harvard have managed to build an advanced biofuel generator. Using biotechnology and genetic engineering, the team created artificial photosynthesis and converted sun rays into liquid fuel.

People tend to think that a solar powered car is the one that has panels fitted on its roof. Of course, they will be right, but many would be surprised to know that these are not the only kind. In fact, solar is also used to convert hydrogen in fuel cells. Both of these examples include the use of photovoltaic cells, which is quite disappointing for the liquid fuel lovers, who would still like to go green.

The most eco-friendly option here biofuel, but for some reason this has had quite a bumpy ride due to the methods of production, and has not managed to take over the gas stations around the world just yet.

A team of scientists from Harvard, decided to look into other means to generate liquid biofuel, but the type that does not threaten food production. They decided to look for possibilities to involve solar, as it is doing so great everyone else, and test whether it will excel in making liquid fuel too.

Inspired by nature and the process of photosynthesis, the team developed a type of artificial leaf that resembles a photovoltaic cell. Once the sunlight is absorbed by the surface, the ‘leaf’ splits water into hydrogen and oxygen.

Up until here, the innovation is not so great, but at this stage it all becomes very interesting. Once the water molecule is split, the team introduced a special type of lab-engineered bacterium called Ralstonia eutropha.  It has the ability to trigger a reaction between hydrogen and carbon dioxide to generate a biofuel called isopropanol.

The whole demonstration is still only a proof of concept. As it reads in their publication in the journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, PNAS, so far, the maximum efficiency that the team managed to achieve is 1 percent, which in fact is the efficiency of the natural photosynthesis. However, the team is not stopping here. They are convinced that their biofuel generator can soon reach 5%.

Image (c) UPI

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