Researchers have now paired a solar-powered catalyzing device with genetically engineered bacteria to convert water and carbon dioxide into fuel. The system has been dubbed the bionic leaf!
The process, which is modeled after the way plants use photosynthesis to turn CO2, H20 and other compounds into energy, with some chemical twists, of course. The ‘artificial leaf’ is the silicon cell that can produce the energy using nothing but sunlight and water. The leaf is steeped in water, and when the sunlight comes down, it spits the water into hydrogen and oxygen molecules that can then be stored as an energy source. This is the same thing a natural leaf does, except it works ten times faster than nature!
“With a single gallon of water (3.7 liters), Nocera says, the chip could produce enough electricity to power a house in a developing country for an entire day,” “Provide every house on the planet with an artificial leaf, and we could satisfy our 14-terrawatt need with just one gallon of water a day.”
Yes, this device is quite intriguing but as intriguing as it is, there are some issues that need to be addressed. Electric cars are being built to run off of hydrogen; Gas stations around the world do not seem to be rushing to install vapor-friendly pumps. So, the question is, ‘Can I invent a device that converts hydrogen gas into a something other than electricity, say, a liquid fuel?’
The answer lies in engineered Ralstonia eutropha bacteria, which allows hydrogen molecules, either from the leaf or something similar and converts them into a form of liquid fuel. The bacteria can absorb the hydrogen molecules, split them, and combine them with carbon dioxide. The bacteria have special metabolic pathways that can convert hydrogen into an alcohol-based fuel called isopropanol, which is sort of like ethanol.
“We’re almost at a 1 percent efficiency rate of converting sunlight into isopropanol,” Nocera says.
But, they are working on increasing their efficiency to 5 percent.