Biobased Through biosolar cells, researchers try to improve photosynthesis, the process through which plants, algae and some bacteria capture sunlight. There are many research programs in the area of direct conversion of sunlight, and each of those takes this technology a step further. Huub de Groot in his lab. Photo: biosolarcells. Approaching the practically achievable maximum The research is progressing steadily. In the lab we now have been successful in achieving two thirds of this threshold.
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This article has been cited by other articles in PMC. Abstract This contribution discusses why we should consider developing artificial photosynthesis with the tandem approach followed by the Dutch BioSolar Cells consortium, a current operational paradigm for a global artificial photosynthesis project.
We weigh the advantages and disadvantages of a tandem converter against other approaches, including biomass. Owing to the low density of solar energy per unit area, artificial photosynthetic systems must operate at high efficiency to minimize the land or sea area required. In particular, tandem converters are a much better option than biomass for densely populated countries and use two photons per electron extracted from water as the raw material into chemical conversion to hydrogen, or carbon-based fuel when CO2 is also used.
A principal challenge is to forge materials for quantitative conversion of photons to chemical products within the physical limitation of an internal potential of ca 2. When going from electric charge in the tandem to hydrogen and back to electricity, only the energy equivalent to 1.
A critical step is then to learn from nature how to use the remaining difference of ca 1. Probably the only way to achieve this is by using bioinspired responsive matrices that have quantum—classical pathways for a coherent conversion of photons to fuels, similar to what has been achieved by natural selection in evolution.
In appendix A for the expert, we derive a propagator that describes how catalytic reactions can proceed coherently by a convergence of time scales of quantum electron dynamics and classical nuclear dynamics. We propose that synergy gains by such processes form a basis for further progress towards high efficiency and yield for a global project on artificial photosynthesis.
Finally, we look at artificial photosynthesis research in The Netherlands and use this as an example of how an interdisciplinary approach is beneficial to artificial photosynthesis research. We conclude with some of the potential societal consequences of a large-scale roll out of artificial photosynthesis.
Keywords: artificial photosynthesis, charge separation, solar fuel, responsive matrix, non-adiabatic coupling, quantum biology 1. However, these resources will dwindle in the foreseeable future.
Also, burning fossil fuels leads to emissions of large quantities of carbon dioxide CO2 , which is one of the major greenhouse gases causing global warming. Furthermore, fossil fuels are not evenly distributed around the world, leading to political tensions and potential problems with energy supply in countries that rely on imported fossil fuel.
These arguments make sustainable, low carbon energy supplies one of the most pressing challenges facing society. The largest of these sources is solar energy. The conversion of energy from the Sun is therefore an obvious place to turn to when seeking alternative energy sources. There are a number of technologies for converting sunlight into electricity; the most common being photovoltaic cells.
However, electricity is not readily stored, which means that the production of electricity has to be balanced with the demand at night time or during the winter season and it is not a practical energy source for applications such as long-distance air and sea transport.
Thus, rather than stopping at the light capturing and charge separation steps of photosynthesis, there is increasing drive to mimic the processes of photosynthesis for fuel production. Despite the growing momentum of research in this field, artificial photosynthesis remains largely unknown in energy and climate change policy documents [ 2 ].
As well as providing a mechanism for bringing together scientists working on artificial photosynthesis, a global consortium on artificial photosynthesis may serve to raise the visibility of this subject [ 3 ]. The most compelling argument for a global artificial photosynthesis derives from the sheer size of the energy system.
Such an effort can only be deployed on a truly global level. The yield of artificial photosynthesis relates to the surface and higher efficiency means less surface. In this paper, we indicate current directions in the development of artificial photosynthesis devices that would fit in a global initiative, and challenges that need to be overcome in forging responsive matrix materials for quantitative conversion of photons to chemical products with high efficiency.
In addition, we show how the Dutch BioSolar Cells consortium can be considered as a template for a global consortium on artificial photosynthesis. In the end, we reflect on the role of a global consortium and potential societal consequences of artificial photosynthesis. Photosynthesis Photosynthesis is the chemical process by which plants, algae and some bacteria store energy from the Sun in the form of carbohydrates that act as fuels. The four main steps of photosynthesis are light harvesting, charge separation, water oxidation and fuel production [ 5 — 7 ].
In light harvesting, antenna molecules, mostly chlorophyll but also carotenes, absorb sunlight and transfer the energy among themselves and eventually through to the reaction centre where charge separation takes place. In this way, energy from sunlight is used to separate positive and negative charges from each other. The positive charges are used to oxidize water. The electrons are transferred via cytochrome b6f and mobile electron carriers to photosystem I where they are excited again and used to produce carbohydrate fuel.
A schematic diagram of what happens in photosynthesis is shown in figure 1.
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Advanced manipulation of bio-based polymers allows BioSolar to produce both robust and durable components, which, according to the company, meet the requirements of current solar cell manufacturing processes. Moreover, the bio-based polymers used in the process are more widely available, and therefore, relatively inexpensive. Backsheets, which are traditionally made from petroleum-based film, are in essence a protective covering widely used in the back of modern photovoltaic solar cells. At the recent SPIE Symposium on Solar Applications and Energy the company has lifted the veil on some of the technological details of its BioBacksheet, revealing that the materials used in the product were derived from cotton and castor beans.
Bio-Based Solar Cells
Description[ edit ] Multiple layers of photosystem I gather photonic energy, convert it into chemical energy and create a current that goes through the cell. The cell itself consists of many of the same non-organic materials that are found in other solar cells with the exception of the injected photosystem I complexes which are introduced and gathered for several days in the gold layer. After days the photosytem I are made visible and appear as a thin green film. It is this thin film that helps and improves the energy conversion. The biohybrid cell however, is still in the research phase. Research[ edit ] The team from Vanderbilt University began conducting research on the photosynthesis when they began to see and focus on the photosystem I protein. After seeing how widely available and efficient the protein was at solar conversion they began to look to incorporate and improve different technologies.