New Artificial Photosynthesis System with Nanowires May Change the Energy Industry

First Posted: Apr 17, 2015 07:33 AM EDT

There have been some major advances in artificial photosynthesis. By combining biocompatible light-capturing nanowire arrays with bacterial populations, a new artificial photosynthesis system may offer a win/win situation for the environment.

The new artificial photosynthetic device is a hybrid system of semiconducting nanowires and bacteria that mimic the natural photosynthetic process by which plants use the energy in sunlight to synthesize carbohydrates from carbon dioxide and water. However, this new artificial photosynthetic system synthesize the combination of carbon dioxide and water into acetate, which is the most common bilding block for biosynthesis.

"We believe our system is a revolutionary leap forward in the field of artificial photosynthesis," said Peidong Yang, one of the researchers, in a news release. "Our system has the potential to fundamentally change the chemical and oil industry in that we can produce chemicals and fuels in a totally renewable way, rather than extracting them from deep believe the ground."

Atmospheric carbon dioxide is the highest it's been in three million years, due primarily to the burning of fossil fuels. Fossil fuels, though, will remain a significant source of energy to meet human needs for the foreseeable future. That's why researchers are looking at new technologies in order to find out how best to create energy without the release of carbon dioxide.

"In natural photosynthesis, leaves harvest solar energy and carbon dioxide is reduced and combined with water for the synthesis of molecular products that form biomass," said Chris Chang, one of the researchers. "In our system, nanowires harvest solar energy and deliver electrons to bacteria, where carbon dioxide is reduced and combined with water for the synthesis of a variety of targeted, value-added chemical products."

The findings could be huge in creating artificial photosynthesis for the energy industry in the future. That said, scientists will need to refine the system in order to make it commercially viable. The currently goal is to reach a conversion efficient of 10 percent in a cost effective manner.

The findings are published in the journal Nano Letters.

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