A group of scientists in the UK plan to artificially replicate photosynthesis, a process used by plants to transform sunlight into energy, in an effort to develop more efficient renewable power sources.
The research will be undertaken primarily by the University of East Anglia (UEA), along with colleagues at the universities of Cambridge and Leeds.
During photosynthesis, plants create energy that is then used to produce hydrogen, a zero-emission fuel that could power vehicles or be transformed into electricity.
Scientists believe that this method of harnessing the sun’s energy will be far more efficient than existing ways of converting solar energy into electricity.
Julea Butt, lead researcher and professor at the UAE’s school of Chemistry noted that exploring renewable energy options is vital at a time when fossil fuel reserves are depleting.
"Many renewable energy supplies, such as sunlight, wind and the waves, remain largely untapped resources," Butt said.
"We have been inspired by natural plant processes. During plant photosynthesis, fuels are made naturally from the energy in sunlight. Light absorption by the green chlorophyll pigments generates an energised electron that is directed, along chains of metal centres to catalysts that make sugars."
Butt said that her team of scientists plans to build a system for artificial photosynthesis, by setting tiny solar-panels on microbes, which will harness sunlight and drive the production of hydrogen.
"We imagine that our photocatalysts will prove versatile and that with slight modification they will be able to harness solar energy for the manufacture of carbon-based fuels, drugs and fine chemicals," Butt added.
The £800,000 research project is being funded by Biotechnology & Biological Sciences Research Council (BBSRC), a UK-based public funding body of non-medical bioscience projects.
Image: UEA scientists will mimic nature for renewable energy generation. Photo: courtesy of UEA.