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Study: extracting energy from enhanced leaves


February 10, 2010
By Dave Harrison


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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.


 

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).