Exploiting Nanomaterials To Make Fuel From Sunlight

Exploiting Nanomaterials To Make Fuel From Sunlight
Legal & illegal Luis Romero / Flickr CC BY 2.0

According to researchers from the University of California in Berkeley, a new way to make efficient artificial photosynthesis by combining bacteria with nanoscale semiconductors has been discovered. This has been made possible as the bacteria present within nanowires make use of electricity to produce useful chemicals.


This novel discovery can be used to design systems that can adeptly convert carbon dioxide, water, and sunlight into organic compounds. The researchers believe that in the future, this could prove to be a solution to produce high-value chemicals used by the pharmaceutical industry or renewable energy in the form of liquid fuels.

According to the inventor Peidong Yang, University of California’s professor of chemistry and materials science, it is the first system to directly combine semiconductors that can transmit electricity to microbes as well as capture solar energy and bacteria.

With this invention, the energy from sunlight is captured by semiconducting nanowires, then they pass electrons to the electrotrophic bacteria present within the wires. The electrons are used by electrotrophs to turn water and carbon dioxide into useful chemicals building blocks. Following this, the resulting chemicals building blocks are passed to the genetically engineered E. coli which makes many other products out of them.

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Yang and his colleagues had used this novel system to make a polymer, known as butanol, which finds its use in biodegradable plastics as well as three pharmaceutical precursors. This invention can also be used to make other products like valuable chemicals, which are needed in small quantities only.

Yang stated that even though this new system uses the energy in sunlight as efficiently as natural photosynthesis, they can still think of improving its efficiency in future. He added that he and his team ultimately aim at inventing a systematic system which is more stable as compared to the bacteria-based system.