Cell biology Functionally Specified Complex Information & Organization Intelligent Design

At Phys.org: Chemists create an ‘artificial photosynthesis’ system ten times more efficient than existing systems

Spread the love

Louise Lerner writes:

For the past two centuries, humans have relied on fossil fuels for concentrated energy; hundreds of millions of years of photosynthesis packed into a convenient, energy-dense substance. But that supply is finite, and fossil fuel consumption has tremendous negative impact on Earth’s climate.

Chemists create an 'artificial photosynthesis' system 10 times more efficient than existing systems
A study from six chemists at the University of Chicago shows an innovative new system for artificial photosynthesis that is more productive than previous artificial systems by an order of magnitude. Above, an artistic illustration of the process. Credit: Peter Allen

“The biggest challenge many people don’t realize is that even nature has no solution for the amount of energy we use,” said University of Chicago chemist Wenbin Lin. Not even photosynthesis is that good, he said: “We will have to do better than nature, and that’s scary.”

One possible option scientists are exploring is “artificial photosynthesis“—reworking a plant’s system to make our own kinds of fuels. However, the chemical equipment in a single leaf is incredibly complex, and not so easy to turn to our own purposes.

Nature Catalysis study from six chemists at the University of Chicago shows an innovative new system for artificial photosynthesis that is more productive than previous artificial systems by an order of magnitude. Unlike regular photosynthesis, which produces carbohydrates from carbon dioxide and water, artificial photosynthesis could produce ethanol, methane, or other fuels.

Though it has a long way to go before it can become a way for you to fuel your car every day, the method gives scientists a new direction to explore—and may be useful in the shorter term for production of other chemicals.

“This is a huge improvement on existing systems, but just as importantly, we were able to lay out a very clear understanding of how this artificial system works at the molecular level, which has not been accomplished before,” said Lin, who is the James Franck Professor of Chemistry at the University of Chicago and senior author of the study.

‘We will need something else’

“Without natural photosynthesis, we would not be here. It made the oxygen we breathe on Earth and it makes the food we eat,” said Lin. “But it will never be efficient enough to supply fuel for us to drive cars; so we will need something else.”

The trouble is that photosynthesis is built to create carbohydrates, which are great for fueling us, but not our cars, which need much more concentrated energy. So researchers looking to create alternates to fossil fuels have to re-engineer the process to create more energy-dense fuels, such as ethanol or methane.

In nature, photosynthesis is performed by several very complex assemblies of proteins and pigments. They take in water and carbon dioxide, break the molecules apart, and rearrange the atoms to make carbohydrates—a long string of hydrogen-oxygen-carbon compounds. Scientists, however, need to rework the reactions to instead produce a different arrangement with just hydrogen surrounding a juicy carbon core—CH4, also known as methane.

This re-engineering is much trickier than it sounds; people have been tinkering with it for decades, trying to get closer to the efficiency of nature.

Even with the significantly improved performance, however, artificial photosynthesis has a long way to go before it can produce enough fuel to be relevant for widespread use. “Where we are now, it would need to scale up by many orders of magnitude to make an sufficient amount of methane for our consumption,” Lin said.

Complete article at Phys.org.

Perhaps the reason that “the efficiency of nature” is so far beyond our ability to duplicate is that living systems are unnatural, in the sense that they were not made by natural processes.

12 Replies to “At Phys.org: Chemists create an ‘artificial photosynthesis’ system ten times more efficient than existing systems

  1. 1
    Seversky says:

    Or perhaps it is because Nature has been able to take billions of years to refine the natural process whereas we have only been tinkering with synthetic equivalents for a couple of hundred years. We may have to be a little more patient.

  2. 2
    Latemarch says:

    Seversky @1

    Or perhaps it is because Nature has been able to take billions of years to refine the natural process…

    So facile. Billions of years… stuff happens. Isn’t it all (gush) just so amazing!

    Where did this “natural process” come from that nature gets to refine? Is this “natural process” just laying around waiting for the next organism to snatch up and use? If it’s such an available “natural process” why isn’t my skin green?

  3. 3
    Caspian says:

    Time is not a friend of complex functional systems. Natural processes, given more time, will further degrade and move such a system towards equilibrium and away from whatever specified complexity it originally possessed, whether it be a cell or an automobile.

  4. 4
    martin_r says:

    Seversky @1
    What are you talking about? What took billions of years ?
    According to Darwinists, photosynthesis evolved 3.5 billions years ago …. You guys believe in miracles ….

    PS: it is funny that all these complex and crucial things always evolve in the deep past and then never again….

  5. 5
    Seversky says:

    Caspian/3

    Time is not a friend of complex functional systems. Natural processes, given more time, will further degrade and move such a system towards equilibrium and away from whatever specified complexity it originally possessed, whether it be a cell or an automobile.

    In a closed system, yes, but the Earth is not a closed system.

  6. 6
    Seversky says:

    Martin_r/4

    What are you talking about? What took billions of years ?
    According to Darwinists, photosynthesis evolved 3.5 billions years ago …. You guys believe in miracles ….

    The evolutionary origins of many things in biology are mysterious at this time but that is not the same as being miraculous.

    ORIGINS OF PHOTOSYNTHESIS

    We know very little about the earliest origins of photosynthesis. There have been numerous suggestions as to where and how the process originated, but there is no direct evidence to support any of the possible origins (Olson and Blankenship, 2004). There is suggestive evidence that photosynthetic organisms were present approximately 3.2 to 3.5 billion years ago, in the form of stromatolites, layered structures similar to forms that are produced by some modern cyanobacteria, as well as numerous microfossils that have been interpreted as arising from phototrophs (Des Marais, 2000). In all these cases, phototrophs are not certain to have been the source of the fossils, but are inferred from the morphology or geological context. There is also isotopic evidence for autotrophic carbon fixation at 3.7 to 3.8 billion years ago, although there is nothing that indicates that these organisms were photosynthetic. All of these claims for early photosynthesis are highly controversial and have engendered a great deal of spirited discussion in the literature (Buick, 2008). Evidence for the timing of the origin of oxygenic photosynthesis and the rise of oxygen in the atmosphere is discussed below. The accumulated evidence suggests that photosynthesis began early in Earth’s history, but was probably not one of the earliest metabolisms and that the earliest forms of photosynthesis were anoxygenic, with oxygenic forms arising significantly later.

  7. 7
    kairosfocus says:

    Prince Caspian,

    This is good news, regarding biofuels research:

    A Nature Catalysis study from six chemists at the University of Chicago shows an innovative new system for artificial photosynthesis that is more productive than previous artificial systems by an order of magnitude. Unlike regular photosynthesis, which produces carbohydrates from carbon dioxide and water, artificial photosynthesis could produce ethanol, methane, or other fuels.

    Though it has a long way to go before it can become a way for you to fuel your car every day, the method gives scientists a new direction to explore—and may be useful in the shorter term for production of other chemicals

    Of course, it is key to note the inputs, CO2 and H2O, which plants use photon energy flux to convert into key structural and energy molecules, pointing to ecosystem level designs. I believe too, we should not overlook H2 as an energy carrier. With a viable mass process it could even become a fuel. Going forward, fuel cells are a potentially pivotal technology.

    While they are at it, could they give us tech to convert cellulose into similar fuels without resort to pyrolysis etc?

    Of course, all of this then points to molecular nanotech.

    I of course, still have hopes regarding algae oil.

    KF

  8. 8
    EvilSnack says:

    I have a bone to pick with the journalism here. The headline states that the newly-discovered system is ten times more efficient than natural photosynthesis, but in the article we read that it’s only an avenue to explore with decades more research before it will bring benfit to the common man.

  9. 9
    chuckdarwin says:

    EvilSnack/8
    What you are seeing is UD’s common practice of headline sensationalism, designed to draw you into reading an article that is basically no news or old news, interspersed with irrelevant comments about ID. A perfect example of this practice is the recent post “At Evolution News: There Is No Settled “’Theory Of Evolution.'” It’s a pretty provocative headline, but I’m sure the author knows full well that no scientific theory is ever “settled.”
    For the reader actually interested in the state of evolution theory today, read the linked article by Erik Svensson in The Conversation. At least the OP author had the courtesy of linking that article, unlike the source of the statement: “Evolutionists themselves can forfeit natural selection, random causes, common descent, etc. How do I know? Because it is in the literature.”
    And what exactly is the literature to which the author refers? Who knows? And, in the end, why should we take the OP’s word for it?

  10. 10
    Sir Giles says:

    ES: The headline states that the newly-discovered system is ten times more efficient than natural photosynthesis,

    Actually the headline didn’t say this. The title is referring to existing artificial systems, not natural systems.

  11. 11
    martin_r says:

    EvilSnack and ChuckD

    EvilSnack: I have a bone to pick with the journalism here.
    ChuckD: What you are seeing is UD’s common practice of headline sensationalism, designed to draw you into reading an article

    You’re barking up the wrong tree ….

    UD editor took this headline from mainstream PHYS.ORG :))))

    So, Chuck, this is a very common practice of mainstream magazines. E.g. all mainstream the-origin-of-life articles’ headlines are headline sensationalism AKA click-baits … all of them …

    by the way, here is the original article at PHYS.ORG

    https://phys.org/news/2022-11-chemists-artificial-photosynthesis-ten-efficient.html

  12. 12
    Sir Giles says:

    And, as I pointed out at 10, the title isn’t sensational. They are not claiming that the system is 10 times more efficient than natural photosynthesis. Just that it was 10 times more efficient than previous artificial systems.

Leave a Reply