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

ued 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.

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

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