Study: extracting energy from enhanced leaves

February 08, 2010
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Feb. 10, 2010 — Every hour the sun produces the same amount of energy that the world uses in a year. An extensive study into the conversion of sunlight into energy and nutrients by plants and algae – or, to give it its correct name, photosynthesis – has received an investment of 25 million euros from the Dutch government.

A part of the program will be used to develop artificial leaves. The study is also important with regard to efforts to build energy producing glasshouses.

The Ministry of Agriculture, Nature Management and Food Quality (LNV) put the program forward because this research will make a contribution to sustainable energy, improving food production and sustainable biomass.

Plants have a sophisticated system of storing energy in fibres and nutrients. If researchers can understand this process better, they could then create energy or improve the conversion of sunlight and create new products.

The ‘Towards Biosolar Cells’ research program follows three paths:

• Raising the photosynthetic efficiency of plants. The result is that more biomass per hectare is produced for energy or food (e.g., more, larger or heavier plants).

• The direct production of biofuels without the need to harvest the biomass (plants). Results would include photosynthetic cyanobacteria or algae that produce butanol (a form of alcohol that can serve as a biofuel).

• Combining natural and technical elements. The result is a solar panel that supplies fuel instead of electricity.

Six universities (including Wageningen University), three leading institutes, 30 businesses, a higher technical college and the Dutch organization for scientific research are involved in the study.

The universities and leading institutes are bundling their knowledge in the fields of photosynthesis, biophysics, biochemistry, bionanotechnology, genomics and physiology.

Sources: www.wur.nl (Wageningen University and Research Centre) and www.minlnv.nl (Dutch Ministry of Agriculture, Nature and Food Quality).

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