Polish scientist discovers new way to turn sunlight into fuel

In a milestone study, a team of academics at St John's College, University of Cambridge, discovered a new method of producing solar energy. The first author of the paper presenting their research is PhD student Katarzyna Sokół.

Ada Petriczko
Ada Petriczko NewsMavens, Poland
Polish scientist discovers new way to turn sunlight into fuel - NewsMavens
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Why this story matters:

For decades now, scientists have attempted to use photosynthesis in the production of natural fuel. Because the other byproduct of photosynthesis, hydrogen, could potentially be a greener and unlimited source of renewable energy.

In their breakthrough discovery, the Cambridge team has overcome what they call -- “nature’s limitations”:

"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% of what it could potentially convert and store," Katarzyna Sokól said.

This is why the scientists worked with semi-artificial photosynthesis. Using natural sunlight they converted water into hydrogen and oxygen with the aid of a mixture of biological components and human-made technologies. As a result, they managed to achieve a more efficient absorption of solar light than is possible during natural photosynthesis -- a possible step towards a revolution in renewable energy production.

Details from the story:

  • On September 3, 2018, in a paper published in "Nature Energy", the scientists of St John's College, University of Cambridge, announced that they succedeed in extracting hydrogen and oxygen from water using natural sunlight.
  • "Natural photosynthesis stores sunlight in chemical energy carriers, but it has not evolved for the efficient synthesis of fuels, such as H2. Semi-artificial photosynthesis combines the strengths of natural photosynthesis with synthetic chemistry and materials science to develop model systems that overcome nature’s limitations," the abstract of the paper reads. 
  • “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,” Sokól believes.
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