Navigation Links
Future for clean energy lies in 'big bang' of evolution
Date:8/25/2008

Amid mounting agreement that future clean, "carbon-neutral", energy will rely on efficient conversion of the sun's light energy into fuels and electric power, attention is focusing on one of the most ancient groups of organism, the cyanobacteria. Dramatic progress has been made over the last decade understanding the fundamental reaction of photosynthesis that evolved in cyanobacteria 3.7 billion years ago, which for the first time used water molecules as a source of electrons to transport energy derived from sunlight, while converting carbon dioxide into oxygen. The light harvesting systems gave the bacteria their blue ("cyano") colour, and paved the way for plants to evolve by "kidnapping" bacteria to provide their photosynthetic engines, and for animals by liberating oxygen for them to breathe, by splitting water molecules. For humans now there is the tantalising possibility of tweaking the photosynthetic reactions of cyanobacteria to produce fuels we want such as hydrogen, alcohols or even hydrocarbons, rather than carbohydrates.

Progress at the research level has been rapid, boosting prospects of harnessing photosynthesis not just for energy but also for manufacturing valuable compounds for the chemical and biotechnology industries. Such research is running on two tracks, one aimed at genetically engineering real plants and cyanobacteria to yield the products we want, and the other to mimic their processes in artificial photosynthetic systems built with human-made components. Both approaches hold great promise and will be pursued in parallel, as was discussed at a recent workshop focusing on the photosynthetic reaction centres of cyanobacteria, organised by the European Science Foundation (ESF).

A key point noted by Eva Mari Aro, the vice-chair of the ESF conference, was that there is now universal agreement over the ability of photosynthesis to provide large amounts of clean energy in future. While the sustainable options currently pursued such as wind and tidal power will meet some requirements, they will not be able to replace fossil fuels as sources of solid energy for driving engines, nor are they likely to be capable on their own of generating enough electricity for the whole planet. Meanwhile the current generation of biofuel producing crops generally convert less than 1% of the solar energy they receive to biomass, which means they would displace too much agricultural land used for food production to be viable on a large scale. There is the potential to develop dedicated systems, whether based on cyanobacteria, plants, or artificial components, capable of much higher efficiencies, reaching 10% efficiency of solar energy conversion. This would enable enough energy and fuel to be produced for a large part of the planet's needs without causing significant loss of space for food production.

As Aro pointed out, photosynthesis evolved by cyanobacteria produced all our fossil fuels in the first place. However the rapid consumption of these fossil fuels since the industrial revolution would if continued return atmospheric carbon dioxide towards the levels at the time cyanobacteria evolved, also heating the planet up to the much higher temperatures that prevailed then. The objective now is to exploit the same reactions so that the remaining fossil fuels can be left in the ground. Among promising contenders discussed at the ESF conference was the idea of an artificial leaf that would simulate not just photosynthesis itself but also the ability of plants to regenerate themselves. This could be important, since the reactions of photosynthesis are destructive, dismantling the protein complexes where they take place, which therefore need regular reconstruction. Under a microscope, chloroplasts, the sub-cellular units where photosynthesis take place, resemble a permanent construction site, and even artificial systems would probably need some form of regenerative capability.

A future aim therefore is to build an artificial leaf-like system comprised of self-assembling nanodevices that are capable of regenerating themselves just as in real plants or cyanobacteria. "Fundamental breakthroughs in these directions are expected on a time scale of 10 to 20 years and are recognized by the international science community as major milestones on the road to a renewable fuel," said Aro.

Such breakthroughs depend on further progress in understanding the precise structure and mechanisms of photosynthesis, in particular the protein complex known as photosystem II, which breaks down the hydrogen atoms of water into their constituent protons and electrons to carry the energy derived from sunlight onto photosystem I, leading to production of carbohydrates and ultimately also the proteins and fats required by all organisms.


'/>"/>

Contact: Eva-Mari Aro
evaaro@utu.fi
358-233-35931
European Science Foundation
Source:Eurekalert

Related biology news :

1. New book tutors future presidents and public on science behind the headlines
2. Genetic data promises new future for kiwi fruit
3. A bees future as queen or worker may rest with parasitic fly
4. Training future scientists at the Ecological Society of Americas 93rd Annual Meeting
5. Study: Future snowmelt in West twice as early as expected; threatens ecosystems and water reserves
6. Algae from the ocean a sustainable energy source of the future
7. The AGA Foundation invests in gastroenterologys future
8. Securing the future of Europes biological data resources
9. U-M scientists remove thousands of aspens to glimpse forests future
10. Crystal (eye) ball: Study says visual system equipped with future seeing powers
11. Emissions irrelevant to future climate change?
Post Your Comments:
*Name:
*Comment:
*Email:
(Date:2/8/2017)... 2017 Report Highlights The global ... $8.3 billion in 2016 at a compound annual growth ... Report Includes - An overview of the global market ... data from 2015 and 2016, and projections of compound ... the market on the basis of product type, source, ...
(Date:2/7/2017)... Zimmer Biomet Holdings, Inc. (NYSE and SIX: ... at the LEERINK Partners 6th Annual Global Healthcare Conference ... February 15, 2017 at 10 a.m. Eastern Time. ... be accessed at http://wsw.com/webcast/leerink28/zbh .  The webcast will ... Biomet,s Investor Relations website at http://investor.zimmerbiomet.com . ...
(Date:2/6/2017)... , Feb. 6, 2017 According to ... are driving border authorities to continue to embrace ... there are 2143 Automated Border Control (ABC) eGates ... deployed at more than 163 ports of entry ... to 2016 achieving a combined CAGR of 37%. ...
Breaking Biology News(10 mins):
(Date:2/23/2017)... ... February 23, 2017 , ... BellBrook Labs ... to include an array of biochemical analyses critical for Lead Discovery. The ... hit-to-lead and SAR programs, including inhibitor potency and selectivity, mechanism of action, and ...
(Date:2/23/2017)... , Feb. 23, 2017  MIODx announced ... for two key immunotherapy technologies from the University ... provides a method to monitor a patient for ... PD-L1 and CTLA-4.  The second license extends the ... patient is likely to have an immune-related adverse ...
(Date:2/23/2017)... Capitol Hill neighborhood, with its swanky shops, parks and cafés, might ... salon to set up shop. But there,s Hair Fairies ... on E Madison Ave, and CEO Maria Botham ... we pride ourselves on being a destination for parents and ... associated with lice. Everyone can get lice – it doesn,t ...
(Date:2/23/2017)... ... February 23, 2017 , ... Brain Sentinel, Inc. has received ... SPEAC® System, the Brain Sentinel® Seizure Monitoring and Alerting System. The adjunctive seizure ... periods of rest. A lightweight, non-invasive monitor is placed on the belly of ...
Breaking Biology Technology: