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New ‘Bionic Leaf’ Lets Convert Solar Energy Into Liquid Fuel

Researchers have created an artificial leaf that can trap solar energy and turn it into liquid fuel with the help of bacteria, with huge potential for future sources of energy.

Called bionic leaf, the artificial leaf developed by researchers mimicks the photosynthesis in natural leaves to harvest solar energy and convert water into hydrogen and oxygen.

They have added a catalyst into it to heighten the capacity of the leaf to entrap solar energy and the hydrogen created has been led to a bacterium named Ralstonia eutropha.

“Renewable-fuels generation has emphasized water splitting to produce hydrogen and oxygen. For accelerated technology adoption, bridging hydrogen to liquid fuels is critical to the translation of solar-driven water splitting to current energy infrastructures,” said researchers in their abstract.

One approach to establishing the connection is to use the hydrogen from water splitting to reduce carbon dioxide to generate liquid fuels via a biocatalyst. The integration of water-splitting catalysts comprised of earth-abundant components to wild-type and engineered Ralstonia eutropha to generate biomass and isopropyl alcohol, used respectively in the experiment.

Daniel G. Nocera

Daniel Nocera

“We establish the parameters for bacterial growth conditions at low overpotentials and consequently achieve overall efficiencies that are comparable to or exceed natural systems,” said lead author Daniel Nocera.

Anthony Sinskey, professor of microbiology and of health sciences and technology at MIT had earlier invented ways to modify the bacteria to take the hydrogen, reduce it to atomic levels and then cause it to combine with the molecules of carbon dioxide to produce a liquid fuel called isopropanol.

The findings have been published in PANS.

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