Plants use photosynthesis to create energy, by converting water and carbon dioxide through the use of sunlight. We’ve known this for a very long time, but we’re finally starting to explore how we might use a similar system to generate power for human use. The benefits of artificial photosynthesis would be immense, potentially removing our reliance on fossil fuels, and reducing the impact of human activity on the global climate. It probably wouldn’t solve global climate change, but it would certainly slow it down and maybe, over a long enough time, even help to reverse some of the effects.
The problem is that efficient, useful artificial photosynthesis is still largely in the realm of science fiction. There are scientists working on the idea but it’s still pretty early in the process. A pair of researchers from the University of Würzburg have been working on the problem and have made some concrete steps towards a useful system.
Through some pretty advanced chemistry, they’ve developed a system of organic bonds that makes the process more efficient than older models. This new bonding process helps to break water into its constituent elements, hydrogen and oxygen, more efficiently, which is an important step towards making a system we can actually use. So far, we’ve had to use the rare metal ruthenium to drive this process, but with the new bonding model that metal decays much more slowly, allowing for more use of a given batch.
This is pretty exciting news, but there is still a lot of research to be done before we can start making artificial photosynthesis batteries or the like. For one, although this process is more efficient, the researchers aren’t entirely sure why that is, so they need to look into that more. But they already know what their next steps are, and hopefully those will yield results as well.