British scientists are copying the way plants generate energy from the sun, with a manmade version of chlorophyll they say will make renewable energy more efficient.
The £800,000 research project will use tiny solar panels to mimic the process of photosynthesis, which is how plants change sunlight into energy to help them grow.
The energy created will then be used to produce hydrogen, a zero-emission fuel which can power vehicles or be transformed into electricity.
Researchers believe this method of harnessing the sun’s energy will be more efficient than existing solar panels.
Lead researcher Professor Julea Butt, from University of East Anglia’s school of Chemistry and school of Biological Sciences said: “We have been inspired by natural plant processes. During plant photosynthesis, fuels are made naturally from the energy in sunlight.
“Light absorption by the green chlorophyll pigments generates an energised electron that is directed, along chains of metal centres, to catalysts that make sugars.
“We will build a system for artificial photosynthesis by placing tiny solar-panels on microbes. These will harness sunlight and drive the production of hydrogen, from which the technologies to release energy on demand are well-advanced.”
She said their “photocatalysts” – effectively the scientists’ manmade version of chlorophyll – should prove versatile and could go on to harness solar energy for making carbon-based fuels, drugs and fine chemicals when developed further.
Academics at UEA will work with colleagues from the University of Leeds and the University of Cambridge on the project.