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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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New Technology That Can Clean Water Twice As of Now

more than one in 10 people in the world lack basic drinking water access, and by 2025, half of the world's population will be living in water-stressed areas.

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Novel technology cleans water using bacteria

Researchers, led by one of Indian-origin, have developed a new technology that can clean water twice as fast as commercially available ultrafiltration membranes, an advance that brings hope for countries like India where clean drinking water is a big issue.

According to a team from the Washington University in St. Louis, more than one in 10 people in the world lack basic drinking water access, and by 2025, half of the world’s population will be living in water-stressed areas.

The team led by Srikanth Singamaneni, Professor at the varsity, developed an ultrafiltration membrane using graphene oxide and bacterial nanocellulose that they found to be highly efficient, long-lasting and environment-friendly.

The membrane technology purifies water while preventing biofouling, or build up of bacteria and other harmful micro-organisms that reduce the flow of water.

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The membrane technology purifies water while preventing biofouling. VOA

For the study, published in the journal Environmental Science and Technology, they used bacteria to build such filtering membranes.

The Gluconacetobacter hansenii bacteria is a sugary substance that forms cellulose nanofibres when in water.

The team then incorporated graphene oxide (GO) flakes into the bacterial nanocellulose while it was growing, essentially trapping GO in the membrane to make it stable and durable.

They exposed the membrane to E. coli bacteria, then shone light on the membrane’s surface.

After being irradiated with light for just three minutes, the E. coli bacteria died. The team determined that the membrane quickly heated to above the 70 degrees Celsius required to deteriorate the cell walls of E. coli bacteria.

While the bacteria are killed, the researchers had a pristine membrane with a high quality of nanocellulose fibres that was able to filter water twice as fast as commercially available ultrafiltration membranes under a high operating pressure.

When they did the same experiment on a membrane made from bacterial nanocellulose without the reduced GO, the E. coli bacteria stayed alive.

The new technology is capable of identifying and quantifying different kinds of cyanobacteria, or blue-green algae, as a threat to shut down water systems when it suddenly proliferates. Pixabay

While the researchers acknowledge that implementing this process in conventional reverse osmosis systems is taxing, they propose a spiral-wound module system, similar to a roll of towels.
Also Read: India Gets Assistance of Rs 3,420 Crore From Japan
It could be equipped with LEDs or a type of nanogenerator that harnesses mechanical energy from the fluid flow to produce light and heat, which would reduce the overall cost.

If the technique were to be scaled up to a large size, it could benefit many developing countries where clean water is scarce, the researchers noted. (IANS)