Photosynthesis is a very important natural process that allows plants and bacteria to convert carbon dioxide into oxygen with the help of sun light and water. Without this process, humans and other animals would find it very hard to breath because as we all know, oxygen is essential for both vertebrates and invertebrates. In a way, photosynthesis can be looked as a symbiotic process between plants and animals given that the O2 produced and exhaled by plants is then assimilated by animals, which in turn transform it back into CO2 to be used by plants again. This wonderful cycle is a prime example of just how ingenious nature can be with her designs and now it’s also a testament to mankind’s extraordinary ability of replicating such complex natural processes.
Specifically, in a very impressive feat of nanoengineering scientists from the Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory and the University of California have managed to replicate the process of photosynthesis by merging together silicon and titanium oxide nanowires with anaerobic bacteria. Unlike the real things, this artificial photosynthetic system will not be focused on producing oxygen, of which there is thankfully still plenty to go around for everybody. Rather, scientists are using the system in order to synthesize various chemicals and biofuels. The potential applications for this technology are pretty vast, but the focus will initially be on helping to create drugs and reliable sources of renewable energy.
The artificial photosynthesis system is not very efficient just yet, with its solar-to-chemical conversion sitting at only 3%. However, the scientists are confident that with some improvements they can get that percentage up to 10% at some point in the future. When that happens, the innovative technology will be commercially viable, according to Peidong Yang, one of the chemists who is leading the study, which was published earlier this month in the journal Nano Letters.