In a breakthrough move, British scientists have used natural sunlight to convert water into hydrogen and oxygen by mixing biological components and man-made technologies.
The team led by academics at the University of Cambridge, used semi-artificial photosynthesis to explore new ways to produce and store solar energy, a finding that could now be used to revolutionise the systems used for renewable energy production.
Their method also managed to absorb more solar light than natural photosynthesis.
“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,” said lead author Katarzyna Soko, doctoral student at the University’s St. John’s College.
Artificial photosynthesis has been around for decades but it has not yet been successfully used to create renewable energy because it relies on the use of catalysts, which are often expensive and toxic. This means it cannot yet be used to scale up findings to an industrial level.
The new model, detailed in the journal Nature Energy, is the first to successfully use hydrogenase and photosystem II to create semi-artificial photosynthesis driven purely by solar power.
The team not only improved on the amount of energy produced and stored, they managed to reactivate a process in the algae that has been dormant for millennia.
“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,” Soko explained.
Soko hopes the findings will enable new innovative model systems for solar energy conversion to be developed. IANS