BIONIC LEAF

The Bionic Leaf is a system that uses solar energy to split water molecules and hydrogen-eating bacteria to produce liquid fuels. It is made of a thin sheet of semiconducting silicone with different catalytic materials bonded to its two sides. A layer of bacteria with a cobalt-based catalyst is bonded to the silicon, which splits water into oxygen and hydrogen. The bionic leaf’s artificial photosynthesis is two times better than natural photosynthesis. The device uses solar electricity from a photovoltaic panel to power the chemistry that splits water into oxygen and hydrogen, then adds pre-starved microbes to feed on the hydrogen and convert CO2 in the air into alcohol fuels. 

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The team’s first artificial photosynthesis device appeared in 2015—pumping out 216 milligrams of alcohol fuel per liter of water—but the nickel-molybdenum-zinc catalyst that made its water-splitting chemistry possible had the unfortunate side effect of poisoning the microbes. So the team set out in search of a better catalyst, one that would play well with living organisms while effectively splitting water. The team’s first artificial photosynthesis device appeared in 2015—pumping out 216 milligrams of alcohol fuel per liter of water—but the nickel-molybdenum-zinc catalyst that made its water-splitting chemistry possible had the unfortunate side effect of poisoning the microbes.

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The soil bacterium Xanthobacter autotrophicus was used to consume hydrogen generated by the water-splitting reaction and take nitrogen from the atmosphere to produce ammonia and phosphorus. These products can be used as fertilizers. In greenhouse experiments at the Arnold Arboretum, growing radishes with X. autorophicus resulted in an increase in size without added fertilizer. The bacteria can secrete ammonia directly, which can appeal to companies that convert atmospheric nitrogen into ammonia, which relies heavily on fossil fuels.

Sources: Harvard ,Scientificamerican , Wikipedia

 

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