Bionic Leaf: Bacteria Can Convert Solar Energy to Liquid Fuel (Download PDF)

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Scientists from Harvard University created a system that uses bacteria to convert solar energy into liquid fuel. Work produces an “artificial leaf,” using a catalyst to make sunlight split water into hydrogen and oxygen, with a bacterium engineered to convert carbon dioxide plus hydrogen into the liquid fuel isopropanol.

Bionic Leaf: Bacteria Convert Solar Energy to Liquid Fuel
  • We can harness solar energy as fuel by using electricity from photovoltaic cells to yield hydrogen that can be later used in fuel cells.
  • The new discovery harvests solar energy and stores it in the form of a liquid fuel
  • Moves forward the concept of “personalized energy,” or locally produced energy, against the current system- for example for oil production is centralized and then sent to gas stations.
  • Local energy especially attractive in the developing countries like India
  • System simple and ease of use- artificial leaf depends on catalysts made from inexpensive and readily accessible materials.
  • Catalysts extremely well adapted and compatible with the growth conditions for bacterium.
  • Once the artificial leaf produces oxygen and hydrogen, the hydrogen is fed to a bacterium called Ralstonia eutropha.
  • Enzyme breaks the hydrogen to protons and electrons, and then combines them with carbon dioxide to replicate.
  • New pathways in the bacterium metabolically engineered to make isopropanol.
  • Same principle of combing catalysts with microbes could be used to produce drugs such as vitamins in small amounts
  • The method has 1 percent efficiency same as that of photosynthesis to turn sunlight into biomass.

- Published/Last Modified on: September 2, 2017

Science/Technology

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