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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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To Meet Increasing Demand Africa Needs to Quadruple Energy Investments

Africa's overall population is set to exceed 2 billion before 2040, accounting for half of the global increase over that period

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Africa, Energy, Investments
The number of people living in Africa's cities is expected to expand by 600 million over the next two decades, much higher than the increase experienced by China's cities during the country's 20-year economic and energy boom. Pixabay

Africa is set to become increasingly influential in shaping global energy trends over the next two decades as it undergoes the largest process of urbanisation the world has ever seen, a new report from the International Energy Agency (IEA) said on Friday.

‘Africa Energy Outlook 2019’, a special in-depth study, finds that current policy and investment plans in African countries are not enough to meet the energy needs of the continent’s young and rapidly growing population.

Today, 600 million people in Africa do not have access to electricity and 900 million lack access to clean cooking facilities.

The number of people living in Africa’s cities is expected to expand by 600 million over the next two decades, much higher than the increase experienced by China’s cities during the country’s 20-year economic and energy boom.

Africa, Energy, Investments
‘Africa Energy Outlook 2019’, a special in-depth study, finds that current policy and investment plans in African countries are not enough to meet the energy needs of the continent’s young and rapidly growing population. Pixabay

Africa’s overall population is set to exceed 2 billion before 2040, accounting for half of the global increase over that period.

These profound changes will drive the continent’s economic growth, infrastructure development and, in turn, energy demand, which is projected to rise 60 per cent to around 1,320 million tonnes of oil equivalent in 2040, based on current policies and plans.

The new report is the IEA’s most comprehensive and detailed work to date on energy across the African continent, with a particular emphasis on sub-Saharan Africa.

It includes detailed energy profiles of 11 countries that represent three-quarters of the region’s gross domestic product and energy demand, including Nigeria, South Africa, Ethiopia, Kenya and Ghana.

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The report makes clear that Africa’s energy future is not predetermined.

Current plans would leave 530 million people on the continent still without access to electricity in 2030, falling well short of universal access, a major development goal.

But with the right policies, it could reach that target while also becoming the first continent to develop its economy mainly through the use of modern energy sources.

Drawing on rich natural resources and advances in technology, the continent could by 2040 meet the energy demands of an economy four times larger than today’s with only 50 per cent more energy.

Africa, Energy, Investments
Today, 600 million people in Africa do not have access to electricity and 900 million lack access to clean cooking facilities. Pixabay

“Africa has a unique opportunity to pursue a much less carbon-intensive development path than many other parts of the world,” IEA’s Executive Director Fatih Birol said.

“To achieve this, it has to take advantage of the huge potential that solar, wind, hydropower, natural gas and energy efficiency offer. For example, Africa has the richest solar resources on the planet, but has so far installed only 5 gigawatts of solar photovoltaics (PV), which is less than one per cent of global capacity.”

If policy makers put a strong emphasis on clean energy technologies, solar Photovoltaic (PV) could become the continent’s largest electricity source in terms of installed capacity by 2040.

Natural gas, meanwhile, is likely to correspond well with Africa’s industrial growth drive and need for flexible electricity supply.

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Today, the share of gas in sub-Saharan Africa’s energy mix is the lowest of any region in the world.

But that could be about to change, especially considering the supplies Africa has at its disposal — it is home to more than 40 per cent of global gas discoveries so far this decade, notably in Egypt, Mozambique and Tanzania.

Africa’s natural resources aren’t limited to sunshine and other energy sources. It also possesses major reserves of minerals such as cobalt and platinum that are needed in fast-growing clean energy industries.

“Africa holds the key for global energy transitions, as it is the continent with the most important ingredients for producing critical technologies,” Birol said.

African countries are on the front line when it comes to climate change, meaning the continent’s energy infrastructure planning must be climate resilient.

“Even though Africa has produced only around two per cent of the world’s energy related CO2 emissions to date, its ecosystems already suffer disproportionately from the effects of a changing climate,” Birol added. (IANS)