Artificial Photosynthesis Breakthrough, Cheap Solar Energy?Artificial photosynthesis has been possible for decades. The problem hasn’t been one of functionality but of speed. Speaking about artificial photosynthesis in general, Licheng Sun, professor of organic chemistry at KTH, said:
"Speed has been the main problem, the bottleneck, when it comes to creating perfect artificial photosynthesis."
Now, a new breakthrough might mean that artificial photosynthesis can finally revolutionize solar energy. Scientists have successfully demonstrated artificial photosynthesis that is as fast as what nature can do.
The speed of photosynthesis is measured by turnover, how fast the process can photosynthesize a molecule. In nature, the speed of photosynthesis varies between 100 and 400 turnovers a second. The new artificial photosynthesizing molecular catalyzer can do it at a rate of 300, which is near the top of the spectrum that nature can do.
As said Sun:
"This speed makes it possible in the future to create large-scale facilities for producing hydrogen in the Sahara, where there's an abundance of sunshine. Or to attain much more efficient solar energy conversion to electricity, combining this with traditional solar cells, than is possible today... I'm convinced that it will be possible in ten years to produce technology based on this type of research that is sufficiently cheap to compete with carbon-based fuels.”
Hydrogen is often touted as a fuel of the future. It happens to be a fairly good battery for energy, though actually getting hydrogen is a bit difficult. Being able to photosynthesize large quantities of it on demand could mean that hydrogen fuel is a cheap and viable alternative to fossil fuels, which are quickly disappearing.
Even if hydrogen isn’t adopted as a fuel, this research lays the groundwork for the production of many other fuels, such as methanol, which Sun specifically points out.
Sun’s research might mean that we will be free of fossil fuel dependence in as little as a few decades. And that is good news for both us and the planet.