The next big step in solar power has been taken: creating burnable fuel out of sunlight! Biologists at Harvard have used a bionic leaf and a bucket of bacteria-infested water to create a biofuel from the sun’s rays. This incredible development has solved a problem that has long faced solar power – the storage of unused power generated from solar panels.
A bionic leaf that turns the sun’s rays into liquid fuel
In 2011, a man named Daniel Nocera invented an artificial leaf that used solar power to generate usable energy – mainly in the form of Hydrogen fuel. It did this through wafer-like electrodes that were suspended in water. These electrodes would be connected to solar panels. When a current would pass through them, it would cause the water to break down into its two components: hydrogen and oxygen. These components could then be used to manufacture hydrogen fuel easily and efficiently. Unfortunately, Hydrogen never took off as a mainstream fuel source.
Researchers went back to the drawing board, and have now discovered a way to use the leaf to make a burnable biofuel. The answer was in adding genetically modified bacteria to the water. These bacteria consume the hydrogen and produce isopropanol—the active ingredient in rubbing alcohol. This can then easily be used as a biofuel. This development has created a means of storing solar energy for later use as well as turning hydrogen into a more accessible fuel.
As of now, this fuel is extremely unlikely to replace fossil fuels or natural gas as a source of energy production – purely because both are cheaper and more readily available. This incredible invention, however, makes a future of personalised energy a very real possibility. With the capacity to create our own fuel in our backyard with nothing more than an artificial leaf and a bucket of bacteria, we may no longer need to rely on the grid for our power needs. A solar power revolution could be closer than we think!
Would you consider using a bionic leaf to make your own fuel? I want to know your thoughts. Get in touch @SignatureMark or leave a comment below.