nanowire arrays

In Significant Advance for Artificial Photosynthesis, a Machine and Living Bacteria Work Together to Make Fuel

Scientists say they have merged living organisms with nanotechnology to mimic the photosynthesis plants use to make energy.  

Blending chemistry, biology and materials science, the team from the University of California, Berkeley and Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory created a living-synthetic hybrid system. The process brings together nanowires and bacteria (seen in the image above) to convert sunlight, water and carbon dioxide in the air into valuable chemicals like liquid fuel, plastics and pharmaceuticals.

Like plants, the system uses solar power to make complex molecules from simple ones. In contrast to the carbohydrates and oxygen that are the product of natural photosynthesis, the new device converts CO2 into acetate, which is the building block for a number of industrially useful chemicals.

“We believe our system is a revolutionary leap forward in the field of artificial photosynthesis,” said Peidong Yang, a Berkeley Lab chemist who was one of the project leaders. “Our system has the potential to fundamentally change the chemical and oil industry in that we can produce chemicals and fuels in a totally renewable way, rather than extracting them from deep below the ground.”

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