from Artificial Photosynthesis
If you are like most people, your first thought upon reading
the word "photosynthesis" probably has to do with plants
you would be right. The term is used to refer to the process by
which plants produce nutrients through the direct action of sunlight.
However, photosynthesis can actually be
used for an application that is more directly beneficial
to humans, which is as a source of hydrogen fuel.
Among the organizations making significant strides in this technology
is the University of Rochester in Rochester, New York, where researchers
have had some success producing hydrogen from sunlight using artificial
photosynthesis in conjunction with nanotechnology. Much of the
funding for this project-as much as $1.7 million in fact-comes
from the Department of Energy or DOE, and already the rest of
the world is taking notice.
The process used by the University of Rochester researchers to
produce hydrogen fuel from artificial photosynthesis basically
involve a system comprised of three modules, which essentially
splits water into its hydrogen and oxygen with the use of sunlight.
The first module utilizes a re-engineered form of chromophore,
which is the substance that plants use to soak up sunlight and
produce free electrons.
The second module for its part is comprised of carbon nanotube
membranes, which serves to channel the electrons to the third
module. It is this module that is responsible for actually splitting
water into oxygen and hydrogen. Proponents of this system claim
that this artificial photosynthesis process is a lot less complicated
and more cost-effective than other system currently under consideration.
It is still a bit too early to tell whether or not such systems
will come into widespread public use, but many significant developments
in this field are expected in the near future, especially with
continued federal funding of related projects.
Another artificial photosynthesis method for producing hydrogen
utilizes what is called the artificial leaf nano structures. This
process was developed by still other researchers working out of
the Jiao Tong University in China, and it involves a slightly
different method of hydrogen production using artificial leaves.
The idea behind this process is actually quite similar to the
process used in the production of hydrogen using sunlight-and
solar panels-to generate electricity, which then splits water
into its oxygen and hydrogen component via a process called electrolysis.
What makes the Shanghai Jiao Tong University project so different
however is that it utilizes a system similar in structure to that
of a plant leaf.
And since nature basically does pretty much the same thing by
producing hydrogen from real plant leaves, this technology is
considered to be one of the most promising ones in the field of
hydrogen fuel technology. The process basically involves drying
plant leaves and heating them to a temperature of 500°C, which
burns away most of the plant material, leaving a framework of
crystallized titanium dioxide.
There still remains a lot of work to be done with regard to using
artificial photosynthesis as an efficient hydrogen fuel production
method. Nevertheless, it is expected that large-scale production
of hydrogen fuel using these and other similar methods is on the