Scientists think they’ve just outsmarted the process of photosynthesis created by Mother Nature over a 3-billion-year span with a bionic leaf. Harvard University labs have created a leaf that processes light faster than a real Maple leaf, and could deliver biofuels to an energy-hungry world.
Though their claims are imbued with hubris, the researchers are confident they’ve stumbled on something profound that could change global warming, and other environmental concerns.
Harvard Professor Daniel Nocera’s lab teamed up with microbiologists led by biochemist and systems biologist Pamela Silver, of Harvard Medical School.
“This is a true artificial photosynthesis system,” says Nocera, a leading researcher in renewable energy. “Before, people were using photosynthesis for water-splitting, but this is a true A-to-Z system, and we’ve gone well over the efficiency of photosynthesis in nature.”
The bionic leaves work by utilizing a hybrid system based on cobalt-phosphorus alloy catalyst partnered with bacteria called Ralstonia eutropha, which splits water into oxygen and hydrogen at low voltages. They say that the bionic leaf would allow them to capture CO2 but bypass the vegetative state.
These artificial leaves could capture carbon dioxide on a massive scale, but then, so could real leaves, if we’d stop clear-cutting forests and native plants for shopping malls, urban development, or palm oil.
Then again, humankind is constantly using nature as a source of inspiration to improve upon itself.
Recently, a thirteen-year-old boy used the Fibonacci sequence (1, 1, 2, 3, 5, 8, 13, 21, 34…) found in nature to create a solar tree that is 50 percent more efficient at creating solar energy than a traditional solar array — so why not use nature’s brilliant leaf as a template for other energy saving devices?
Nocera said of the discovery, “If you think about it, photosynthesis is amazing. It takes sunlight, water and air—and then look at a tree. That’s exactly what we did, but we can do it significantly better, because we turn all that energy into a fuel.”
The Harvard bionic leaf is said to convert solar energy to biomass with an efficiency of 10 percent. The fastest-growing plants do the same with an efficiency of 1 percent.
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