Ann Conkle
Dec 19, 2011

Mimicking photosynthesis to produce energy

Photosynthesis directly converts solar energy into storable fuel using just water and carbon dioxide. Scientists have long tried to mimic the underlying natural processes of photosynthesis and optimize them for energy device applications such as photo-electrochemical cells (PEC), which use sunlight to electrochemically split water and, thus, directly generate hydrogen, cutting short the more conventional approach of using photovoltaic cells for the electrolysis of water. Traditionally, PEC electrodes are made of semiconducting materials such as metal oxides. Researchers have now succeeded in making a nano-bio PEC electrode, consisting of iron oxide conjugated with a protein from blue-green algae (also known as cyanobacteria), which is twice as efficient in water splitting as iron oxide alone.