Scientists aim to create ‘oil’ using photosynthesis
An oil substitute made with ‘artificial leaf’ technology could power ships and planes, according to a leading British expert.
Scientists have applied a new twist to the process of photosynthesis – the method plants use to harness the energy of sunlight.
Instead of producing organic material from carbon dioxide, as plants do, they plan to manufacture a hydrocarbon ‘fuel’ which could be used instead of oil, using photosynthesising bacteria.
The scientists hope to prove the technology in the next two years and to develop a small-scale demonstration system within five.
This has been tried before, with little success.
But just recently the University of Glasgow team had a ‘eureka moment’ – the discovery that the process could be driven by electricity instead of light.
The oil would be used to ‘store’ energy which could then power vehicles.
Professor Richard Cogdell, who heads the research, believes the greater efficiency this achieves could make the technology a major energy source in decades to come.
Speaking at the annual meeting of the American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS) in Vancouver, Canada, he said: ‘The big issue at the moment is that most renewable energy sources make electricity. That’s fine, but we have not good ways of storing electricity, and it’s intermittent.
‘What you need is to be able to lock that energy up in some sort of storage fluid that’s available on demand, and that’s what fuel is.
‘To really sustain our way of life after the oil runs out we have to be able to make, renewably and sustainably, dense portable fuels for transport, especially for aeroplanes and ships.
‘We’re looking at photosynthesis to see whether we can learn to copy it in a more robust and efficient way.
‘What we’ve realised in just the last couple of months is that we should be able to use electricity to power these reactions.