Fuel From 'Bionic Leaf' Can Lessen Pressure on Farmlands, Scientists Say

First Posted: Jun 05, 2016 08:23 AM EDT

Researchers from Harvard University have managed to have developed a new clean technology to drastically turn sunlight into fuel. This could shrink the need for large plantations to grow crops for biofuels, while fighting climate change at the same time.

According to CS Monitor, researchers compare their invention with the natural process of photosynthesis in plants. They dubbed it "bionic leaf" or "artificial leaf," and say that the level of efficiency they have achieved where more than other similar systems, including photosynthesis itself.

The paper described the work as addressing two fundamental goals: saving the energy of the sun, not only converting it for immediate use, and also building something useful from carbon dioxide in the atmosphere, thus reducing a huge level of greenhouse gas.

This (new energy source) is not competing with food for agricultural land," Harvard University Professor of Energy Daniel Nocera told the Thomson Reuters Foundation.

A study from the University of Virginia said that crops like corn and sugar cane have been found to be cultivated increasingly to produce biofuels. About 4 percent of the world's farmland is used to grow crops mainly for fuel than food. There have been tens of thousands of small-scale farmers from Africa, Asia, and Latin America which have been disturbed by plantations growing crops in order to make biofuel, said GRAIN, a land rights group based in Barcelona.

The new technology could help protect their land rights while also reducing the greenhouse gas emissions that are warming the planet, Nocera said. "The (land) footprint these solar panels need is about one tenth the size of what you would need for sugar cane," he said.

Reuters also reported that if government sells carbon dioxide emissions, the "bionic leaf" would be very appealing to investors as an alternative source of cost-effective energy, Professor Nocera added. Nocera also that today, it is still cheaper to grow biofuel crops or extract fossil fuels than to produce renewable energy, he said.

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