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In plant photosynthesis, scientists see clues for improving solar energy cells
Date:11/22/2013

reactions involved in photosynthesis starts with hundreds of light-absorbing molecules that harvest sunlight and 'concentrate' the fleetingly stored energy at a biological solar cell called a "reaction center."

And that happens with incredible speed. After sunlight is absorbed, the energy is trapped at reaction centers in about one billionth of a second.

New understanding of the photosynthetic process can also help alleviate the biggest looming threat to humanity -- climate change -- since photosynthesis makes use of the sun's energy to convert the greenhouse gas carbon dioxide (CO2) into useful biomass.

More than 10 quadrillion photons of light strike a leaf each second. Incredibly, almost every visible photon (those with wavelengths between 400 and 700 nanometers -- 1 nm equalling 1 billionth of a metre) is captured by pigments and initiates the steps of plant growth.

Says Dr. Scholes: "Photosynthetic solar energy conversion occurs on an immense scale across the Earth, influencing our biosphere from climate to oceanic food webs. Energy from sunlight is absorbed by brightly coloured molecules, like chlorophyll, embedded in proteins comprising the photosynthetic unit."

"While photosynthesis does not generate electricity from light, like a solar cell, it produces energy - a "solar fuel" - stored in molecules," he adds. "Solar powered production of complex molecules is foreseen as an important contribution to energy management in the future."

Concludes Dr. Scholes: "Nature has worked out with astonishing efficiency some the riddles of fundamental importance that vex our species today," he adds. "If we are hunting for inspiration, we should keep our eyes open for the unexpected and learn from the natural sciences."


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Contact: Terry Collins
tc@tca.tc
416-538-8712
Royal Canadian Institute for the Advancement of Science
Source:Eurekalert

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