Artificial Photosynthesis Breakthrough?
Plants are able to store solar energy by converting CO2 and H2O into biomass. Scientists have been trying to mimic this process in an attempt to speed the natural photosynthesis up and create fuel, literally from the air and now scientists from Berkeley claim they have made considerable progress.
Key ingredients: mixture of nanotechnology (silicon and titanium oxide nano-wires) and biology (Sporomusa ovata bacteria). The wires absorb the sunlight and the energy is used by the bacteria to convert the CO2 in the air into acetate, which can be used for more complex chemicals, fuel and plastics.
Current energy conversion efficiency is a meager 0.38%. The team is working on a ‘second generation’ system which should bring 3%. They hope to achieve 10% in the future, in order to make the process ‘commercial viable’.
Editor: as long as ever cheaper solar panels can achieve efficiencies of 10-15%, it remains unclear why this biochemical process would represent an advantage, except for niche applications, for instance in areas where there is no grid plus mass pumped hydro storage.