Thursday, May 16, 2013

Researchers Hijack Plant Photosynthesis to Generate Electricity

We're still waiting for a revolutionary way to generate clean and endless energy in order to let go of fossil, nuclear, and other "dirty" ways we currently use. And when it comes to solar power, why not look to the examples we have in our own backyards, that are the culmination of millions and millions of years of evolution: plants!

Plants may not look like much, but when it comes to solar efficiency, there's nothing close. A plant can achieve nearly 100% quantum efficiency, converting each incoming photon to an energy carrying electron - compare that to most common manufactured solar panels, that are just 12-17% efficient. So, researchers at Georgia University have decided to hijack the photosynthesis process and let the plant to most of the work, while they reap the benefits. By modifying some proteins, they've redirected the converted energy to the outside before the plant uses it to create glucose for itself.

This means that in the future, solar maintenance and green initiatives might end up requiring more gardening skills than the "technical" ones we currently used to. But as long as it gives us green, clean, and sustainable power... what's there not to like about it? Can you imagine using a solar power simulator where you input your power requirements and in return you get what kind of plants are most suitable for your location and how many you'll need to generate the required energy? It sure would give a much more literal meaning when it comes to "green energy", and it may happen sooner than we think.

For what is worth, I can't wait for solar power (and other "green" energies) to become the norm rather than the exception. In Spain, for the past few months, renewable energy generation has accounted for more than half of the total power generation - though most of it comes from hydroelectric plants, and just a few percent comes from solar power - but as technology evolves... Maybe in a few decades, we'll see solar power reaching the top spot when it comes to power generation.

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