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May 8th, 2015 at 4:46 pm

Artificial photosynthesis for making fuels, plastics, and medicine

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A new artificial photosynthetic system has been invented by a team of scientists.  This new system could one day reduce industry’s dependence on fossil fuel-derived energy by powering it with solar energy and bacteria.  

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In the ACS journal Nano Letters, they describe a novel system that converts light and carbon dioxide into building blocks for plastics, pharmaceuticals and fuels — all without electricity.

Plants use photosynthesis to convert sunlight, water and carbon dioxide to make their own fuel in the form of carbohydrates. Globally, this natural process harvests 130 Terawatts of solar energy to generate up to 115 billion metric tons of biomass annually. If scientists could figure out how to harness just a fraction of that amount to make fuels and power industrial processes, they could dramatically cut our reliance on fossil fuels.

However, such an approach has not been fully realized owing to a host of unmet basic scientific challenges, say the scientists at Howard Hughes Medical Institute, Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory, Kavli Energy NanoSciences Institute, and University of California, Berkeley.

The groups developed a stand-alone solar-energy conversion process that combines the strengths of semiconductor nanodevices and bacterium-based biocatalysts. A nanowire array captures light, and with the help of bacteria, converts carbon dioxide into acetate. The bacteria directly interact with light-absorbing materials, which the researchers say is the first example of “microbial photoelectrosynthesis.”

Another kind of bacteria then transforms the acetate into chemical precursors that can be used to make a wide range of everyday products from antibiotics to paints, replacing fossil fuels and electrical power.

Image and article via Kurzweilai

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