Plants hold key to capturing, storing energy
NSF's research could help to develop cheap, clean energy sources.
Cambridge, Mass.—A simple plant that rests on a windowsill is actually a very complicated machine that converts sunlight into a high-energy fuel. Scientists remain confounded in their efforts to harness that energy, but they are getting closer.
National Science Foundation researchers have created an artificial photosynthesis that helps capture and store the energy of sunlight. Their work could be useful in developing cheap, clean energy sources.
In photosynthesis, plants collect and store energy from sunlight for future use. Daniel G. Nocera, a chemist at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, and former graduate student Alan F. Heyduk developed a compound that collects and stores energy from a light source in the form of hydrogen gas.
Creating a molecule to replace a leaf—essentially, photosynthesis in a beaker—could help revive interest in the sun as a source of energy, Nocera said. “We have been seeking a future alternative fuel source by studying the principles that govern the conversion of photon energy into chemical potential,” he said.
The goal of the project was to trap the energy of the absorbed light in a structurally well-defined molecule and control the subsequent reactions to convert this energy into hydrogen.