Harvard University Researchers introduce “Bionic Leaf” that will turn Sunlight into Liquid Fuel

Tapping sunlight to convert it into liquid fuels would reduce the vast areas of land usually used for producing plants that generate biofuels

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An Agricultural field in Argentina. Image source: Wikipedia
  • “Bionic leaf 2.0” is a cost-effective alternative energy source
  • The process includes tapping sunlight to convert it into liquid fuels 
  • This will reduce the need to grow crops like sugarcane and corn that are normally cultivated for biofuels

To combat climate change, a new clean technology “Bionic leaf 2.0”, has been introduced by the researchers at Harvard University in the academic journal Science, on Thursday, June 2.

The study in the recent publication of the journal discusses how “Bionic leaf 2.0” aims to make use of solar panels for splitting molecules of water into oxygen and hydrogen. On separation of the water compounds, hydrogen is moved into a chamber for consumption by bacteria. A specialised metal catalyst and carbon dioxide in the chamber then helps generate a liquid fuel. “The method is an artificial version of photosynthesis in plants,” say scientists.

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Another efficient way of farming. Aquaponics- A Deep Water Culture hydroponics system where plant grow directly into the effluent rich water without a soil medium. Image source: Wikipedia
Another efficient way of farming. Aquaponics- A Deep Water Culture hydroponics system where plant grow directly into the effluent rich water without a soil medium. Image source: Wikipedia

Tapping sunlight to convert it into liquid fuels would reduce the vast areas of land usually used for producing plants that generate biofuels. According to a study by the University of Virginia, about 4 per cent of the world’s farmland is currently under crops for fuel rather than crops for food.

Crops like sugarcane and corn are normally cultivated for biofuels. “Tens of thousands of small-scale farmers across Africa, Asia, and Latin America have been displaced by plantations growing crops to make biofuels,” a Barcelona-based land rights group GRAIN was quoted saying.

“This [new energy source] is not competing with food for agricultural land,” said Harvard University Professor of Energy Daniel Nocera to Thomson Reuters. The land-area requirement to install such solar panels is about one-tenth the size of what would be needed for sugar cane. It would further help reduce emission of greenhouse gases and eventually reduce global warming levels.

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“Bionic leaf 2.0” converts solar energy into liquid fuel with 10 percent efficiency, far higher than the 1 percent efficiency seen in the fastest-growing plants that use a similar process, Nocera added.

Despite the fact that growing biofuels or extracting fossil fuels are cheaper than producing renewable energy, it is believed that the technology has potentials of replacing oil wells or plantations for fuel.

Nocera is also optimistic that “Bionic leaf 2.0” would appeal to investors as a cost-effective alternative energy source if the government decides on pricing carbon dioxide emissions. He adds that a carbon tax to boost US gas prices equalling that of European levels might impel investments in the new technology. However, that is yet to be on the cards.

-by Maariyah (with inputs from VOA), an intern at NewsGram. Twitter: @MaariyahSid

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