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'Bionic Leaf'

Converts Sunlight into Liquid Fuel

Presented By:
Asad Saeed, J.E

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Researchers at Harvard University have


designed a system that mimics the
process of Photosynthesis, the process
by which plants convert solar energy into
chemical energy that is later used to fuel
the plant. The idea is not new though.
The innovation, nicknamed "Bionic leaf,"
which was considered too good to be
true, has now become a reality.

History.

This topic builds on the work of Professor of Energy Daniel


Nocera and his artificial leaf first demonstrated in 2011.

Professor Noceras leaf was made from a silicon strip


coated with catalysts on each side.

That Leaf Produced oxygen and hydrogen from solar


energy.

Artificial leaves harness solar energy and turn it into


hydrogen for use in fuel cells.

But cars and other vehicles still predominantly rely on liquid


fuels.

Solar Energy into Liquid Fuels.

(Harvard University) Researchers have designed


a bionic leaf that not only uses solar energy to
produce oxygen and hydrogen, it feeds this
hydrogen to bacteria that is then engineered to
make isopropanol.

The Harvard leaf produces oxygen and hydrogen


in the same way as Professor Noceras, but the
hydrogen is then channeled through a chamber
filled with a bacterium called Ralstonia eutropha.

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An enzyme in this bacteria takes the


hydrogen back to protons and electrons,
and these are combined with carbon
dioxide within the same chamber.
The researchers then extract this
bacteria, with the protons, electrons and
carbon dioxide and metabolically
engineers it to make iso-propanol.

Challenges...

The Problem with Hydrogen


"The problem with the artificial leaf," infrastructure to use hydrogen."

Why? Because hydrogen is extremely unstable. The smallest stable molecule, it tries
to escape into the atmosphere. Hydrogen must be compressed first before it can be
contained which may be way expensive. Gasoline and diesel have an advantage over
hydrogen in that they are stable and the most convenient.

The artificial leaf addresses this problem with the specially engineered bacterium
which converts hydrogen into a liquid fuel.

Death of bacteria: the eluding challenge


Keeping the bacteria alive requires high-voltage current, which makes the process
less efficient. During the initial stages, the bacteria died. Reactive oxygen was
identified as the culprit. But more interesting is the source: the reactive oxygen was
coming out of the hydrogen side, not the oxygen side.

"We were shocked," Nocera says. "That confused us for a while." Keeping the bacteria
alive requires high-voltage current, making the process far less efficient. Nocera's
team solved this problem and were able to produce fuel more efficiently.