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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
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  • “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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Your body could soon power wearable devices

The study described a small tab (1.5 centimetres long, by one centimetre wide). It delivered a maximum voltage of 124 volts, a maximum current of 10 microamps and a maximum power density of 0.22 millwatts per square centimetre.

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The tab consists of two thin layers of gold, with polydimethylsiloxane (also called PDMS — a silicon-based polymer used in contact lenses, Silly Putty and other products) sandwiched in between. Wikimedia Commons
The tab consists of two thin layers of gold, with polydimethylsiloxane (also called PDMS — a silicon-based polymer used in contact lenses, Silly Putty and other products) sandwiched in between. Wikimedia Commons

Researchers have developed a metallic tab which, when connected to a human body, is capable of generating electricity from bending a finger and other simple movements.

According to a research project led by the University at Buffalo, New York, and Institute of Semiconductors (IoP) at the Chinese Academy of Science (CAS), the tab — a triboelectric nanogenerator — can convert mechanical energy into electrical energy for electronic devices.

“The human body is an abundant source of energy. We thought: ‘Why not harness it to produce our own power?’” said lead author Qiaoqiang Gan, associate professor at the University at Buffalo.

The tab was detailed in the journal Nano Energy. Triboelectric charging occurs when certain materials become electrically charged after coming into contact with a different material. Most everyday static electricity is triboelectric.

Also Read: Scientists Use Pocket-size Device to Map Human Genetic Code

The tab consists of two thin layers of gold, with polydimethylsiloxane (also called PDMS — a silicon-based polymer used in contact lenses, Silly Putty and other products) sandwiched in between.

The tab was detailed in the journal Nano Energy. Wikimedia Commons
The tab was detailed in the journal Nano Energy. Wikimedia Commons

One layer of gold is stretched, causing it to crumple upon release and create what looks like a miniature mountain range. When that force is reapplied, for example, from a finger bending, the motion leads to friction between the gold layers and PDMS.

“This causes electrons to flow back and forth between the gold layers. The more friction, the greater the amount of power is produced,” said Yun Xu, a professor at the IoP.

The study described a small tab (1.5 centimetres long, by one centimetre wide). It delivered a maximum voltage of 124 volts, a maximum current of 10 microamps and a maximum power density of 0.22 millwatts per square centimetre.

Also Read: Mitra: An Indian Robot That Greets You With A ‘Namaste’

That is not enough to quickly charge a smartphone, but it lit 48 red LED lights simultaneously. The team is planning to use larger pieces of gold, which when stretched and folded together are expected to deliver even more electricity.

The researchers are also working on developing a portable battery to store energy produced by the tab. They envision the system serving as a power source for various wearable and self-powered electronic devices. (IANS)