Scientists hack into the early stage of photosynthesis in biofuel breakthrough

Last month , Exxon Mobil (NYSE: XOM) I pulled the plug In the 14-year algal biofuel project to become the latest oil company to abandon what was once considered the fuel of the future, the whole idea wasn’t without merit. Algae have some clear advantages over biofilter filters, mainly because these photosynthetic microorganisms are extremely efficient at converting sunlight into biomass; Owns High fat content up to 80% For some cultivars and more diverse than, for example, corn, a popular biofuel crop.

Unfortunately, Exxon and its Big Oil affiliate groups have found it very difficult to make the economics of algae biofuels competitive with those of much cheaper crude, with the algae-based bioproducts company Silana It estimates that crude oil must reach $500/bbl for algae biofuels to compete successfully.

But a new discovery by scientists could offer companies like Exxon and players in renewable energy a new lifeline. Scientists have “Hacked” an early stage of photosynthesis And it discovered new ways to extract energy from the process, a discovery that could help generate clean fuels and renewable energy.

Photosynthesis hack

An international team of biologists, chemists and physicists, led by the University of Cambridge, has succeeded in studying photosynthesis at the molecular level and on an ultrafast timescale: millionths of a millionth of a second.

Although the process by which plants convert sunlight and water into energy has been known to humans for centuries, the photophysics of the process, including the atomic and molecular changes that occur when sunlight is absorbed by plants, is not well understood. A big challenge in fully understanding photosynthesis is that the process is too fast for many conventional monitoring systems to track. To overcome this barrier, the Cambridge team developed a technique using ultrafast spectroscopy techniques using laser pulses aimed at samples of living cells to monitor rapid cellular changes.

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According to study author Tomi Baikie, these lasers take “pictures” of photosynthetic cells at a rate of “…A million times faster than your iPhone. The (quantum) electronics in the plant world are pretty amazing. We didn’t expect it to quite work out — but it worked really, really well. This means we have a new tool for understanding cells.

The team’s key finding is that the electrons necessary for photosynthesis are being extracted from cells much earlier than previously thought. Zhang and her colleagues have been trying to understand how ring-shaped molecules called quinones are able to ‘steal’ electrons from photosynthesis. Quinones can easily accept and give up electrons. Scientists have used ultrafast transient absorption spectroscopy to study how quinones behave in photosynthetic cyanobacteria in real time, while there have been many attempts to ‘steal’ electrons from photosynthesis in time.”Achieving this would open up many exciting possibilities where photovoltaic cells and their components can act as self-generating and self-repairing catalysts that cannot be replicated by artificial systems.” The complication so far, Zhang added, is that the researchers couldn’t “see” where the electronics were being stolen from inside the cells.

If that sounds kind of byzantine and unorthodox, the big takeaway here is that this discovery is a potential game-changer with a range of future applications, from biofuels to developing more efficient crops, which could improve the competitiveness of future biofuels. Moreover, scientists have been studying how photosynthesis can be used to address the climate crisis, by simulating photosynthetic processes to generate clean fuel from just sunlight and water, for example.

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All it takes are a few basic hacks to completely change the field. These breakthroughs require time, but also an investment in basic science and interdisciplinary research. This work is a beautiful demonstration of this, we have changed the target posts that this technology can be,Zhang said.

By Alex Kimani for Oilprice.com

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