Scientists have found a viable way to convert the sun's light into usable energy, in a process called "reverse photosynthesis."
The holy grail of renewable energy comes from one single source – the sun. For decades, scientists have been pushing forward towards a world where power can be generated through solar panels, wind turbines and other natural processes influenced by the sun’s energy.
According to a report from Discovery News, scientists may have stumbled into a solution for one of our biggest energy needs – fuel for transportation and the industrial processes that define the global economy. By using a process called reverse photosynthesis, researchers from the University of Copenhagen have successfully used sunlight to convert plant biomass into usable energy.
The study outlining the process was published this week in the journal Nature Communications. Researchers found that by combining biomass, like straw or wood, with an enzyme called lytic polysaccharide monooxygenase (found in certain species of fungus and bacteria) and chlorophyll and exposing the mixture to sunlight, they were able to convert the resulting byproducts into various types of usable fuels and plastics.
The major breakthrough is using the sun’s energy to drive the entire chemical process. The sunlight helps speed up the creation of biofuels too – a reaction that typically would take as long as a full day can be carried out in just ten minutes using the new reverse photosynthesis method.
According to the study’s lead author Claus Felby, “It has always been right beneath our noses, and yet no one has ever taken note. Photosynthesis by way of the sun doesn’t just allow things to grow, the same principles can be applied to break plant matter down, allowing the release of chemical substances.”
Felby believes the development is a “game change.” Using the sun as a catalyst for breaking down plant matter into usable biofuels could bring unheard-of efficiencies to a number of industrial processes, and could have ripple effects throughout the entire global economy. The research team hopes to continue developing and refining the process in future studies.
A press release from the University of Copenhagen describing the details of the study can be found here.