Scientists develop a way to transform sunlight into fuel

Scientists have developed a new way to transform sunlight into fuel by altering the photosynthesis process in plants.

Researchers from the University of Cambridge developed the technique, which involves splitting water into oxygen and hydrogen in plants.

The hydrogen produced could potentially be a green and unlimited source of renewable energy, according to the researchers.

The team used natural sunlight to convert water into hydrogen and oxygen using a mixture of biological components and manmade technologies.

Ms Katarzyna Sokó, who led the study, said: "Natural photosynthesis is not efficient because it has evolved merely to survive so it makes the bare minimum amount of energy needed – around 1-2 per cent of what it could potentially convert and store.”

While artificial photosynthesis has been around for year, previous techniques have relied on catalysts – which are often expensive and toxic.

Unlike those techniques, the new technique uses an enzyme called hydrogenase, which is non-toxic.

Ms Sokó explained: “Hydrogenase is an enzyme present in algae that is capable of reducing protons into hydrogen.

“During evolution this process has been deactivated because it wasn’t necessary for survival but we successfully managed to bypass the inactivity to achieve the reaction we wanted – splitting water into hydrogen and oxygen.”

The researchers now hope that their technique could be used on a larger scale to transform sunlight into fuel.

Ms Sokó added: “It’s exciting that we can selectively choose the processes we want, and achieve the reaction we want which is inaccessible in nature.

“This could be a great platform for developing solar technologies. The approach could be used to couple other reactions together to see what can be done, learn from these reactions and then build synthetic, more robust pieces of solar energy technology."

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