Biological solar energy

  • Barber J
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Through the process of photosynthesis, the energy of sunlight has been harnessed, not only to create the biomass on our planet today, but also the fossil fuels. The overall efficiency of biomass formation, however, is low and despite being a valuable source of energy, it cannot replace fossil fuels on a global scale and provide the huge amount of power needed to sustain the technological aspirations of the world population now and in the future. However, at the heart of the photosynthetic process is the highly efficient chemical reaction of water splitting, leading to the production of hydrogen equivalents and molecular oxygen. This reaction takes place in an enzyme known as photosystem II, and the recent determination of its structure has given strong hints of how nature uses solar energy to generate hydrogen and oxygen from water. This new information provides a blue print for scientists to seriously consider constructing catalysts that mimic the natural system and thus stimulate new technologies to address the energy/CO2 problem that humankind must solve. After all, there is no shortage of water for this non-polluting reaction and the energy content of sunlight falling on our planet well exceeds our needs.

Author-supplied keywords

  • Biomass
  • Efficiency
  • Photosynthesis
  • Photosystem II
  • Solar energy
  • Water splitting

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  • James Barber

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