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Hydrogen from Photosynthesis

written by: Baby Rani•edited by: Lamar Stonecypher•updated: 12/20/2010

Don’t you think that mimicking plants to get energy like how we mimicked birds to fly would be a great idea? At the same time, we need to remember that it has to happen when it would be useful rather than being too late.

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    Hydrogen holds expectant promise as the "green" free energy base of the future. Despite the fact that hydrogen is omnipresent, it hardly ever subsists in an uncontaminated form in nature. Current techniques of developing hydrogen for fuel, like extraction from raw gas, are not only energy incompetent, but also polluting at the same time. Thus, getting hydrogen as a potential “clean” fuel cannot be responsibly accomplished until it can be obtained from inexhaustible resources.

    Water + sunlight = fuel looks to be a simple equation even though practically it is not as easy as it seems. This equation substantiates the application of solar energy to split water particles to develop hydrogen, which can be utilized as an energy-rich gas for distribution and to produce electricity also. If enhanced and made reasonable, the engineering could contribute significantly to the future universal energy requirement, which is expected to double between now and 2050.

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    Solar Water Ripping

    The main idea behind solar water ripping is to develop cheap accelerators to capture light competently and hasten the course while reducing the quantity of electricity required for the electrochemistry involved. Most accelerators to date have less solar effectiveness, depend on costly and uncommon metals, or have a tendency to be inactivated under certain adverse working conditions.

    Two research groups in the U.S. have lately accounted for breakthroughs in the evolution of processes used for generating H2 through the water splitting process. Daniel G. Nocera and colleagues at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology have prepared an assorted cobalt phosphate water-oxidization accelerator with bettered constancy. And Craig L. Hill of Emory University and colleagues have produced an associated uniform cobalt accelerator backed by large polytungstate substances that exhibit enhanced catalytic action.

    Both accelerators are created from earth-rich components, keep off unrefined ligands that are prone to oxidization during chemical decomposition reactions, have an inherent mechanism for self-repair to get better lifetimes, and function at electro-neutral pH with self-effacing electricity stimulus.

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    Prior Research

    Investigation on photosynthetic hydrogen yields as an inexhaustible energy generator started in the 1970s. Green algae were used to measure and interpret hydrogen and oxygen production. However due to the buildup of H2 and O2 with successive reserve, these chemical reactions could be continued only for several minutes. Again with the removal of inhibitory oxygen, Greenbaum in 1980 displayed that continuous synchronized photo production of H2 and O2 could be practical for hours. However these experiments did not go for long for want of raw materials.

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    Copying Nature

    After some initial hiccups, researchers realized that copying nature meant using the process of photosynthesis, with the help of some catalyst, in order to generate hydrogen in quantities useful for fuel.

    It took quite a long time before practical non-natural photosynthetic arrangement could be developed that approximately imitated the biological process. This was not done by repeating the self-organization and procreation of the natural systems, but by making a composition capable of using sunlight in a thermodynamic ascending reaction- with plenty enough of the composition to develop a fuel.

    According to Professor Nocera “Creating a molecule to replace a leaf- essentially, photosynthesis in a beaker- could provide a cheap, clean future energy source.” He further added, "We have been seeking a future alternative fuel source by studying the principles that govern the conversion of photon energy into chemical potential. Our strategy is to use the energy of sunlight to drive reactants uphill to energy-rich products, thus harnessing the sun's energy to create a renewable energy source in the future."

    Stimulated by the photosynthesis executed by plants, Nocera and Matthew Kanan in Nocera's lab have formulated an unparalleled procedure that will let the sun's energy be applied to rip water into hydrogen and oxygen gases. Afterwards, the O2 and H2 may be put together again in a fuel cell, producing carbon-free electrical energy to power your house and/or your electric car, all through the day and night.

    The key element used by the researchers in the process is a new accelerator that gives rise to O2 from water and another accelerator that develops valuable H2. The new accelerator is comprised of a cobalt metallic element, phosphate, and a conductor positioned in water. When electricity either from a photovoltaic cell, or a wind turbine, or any other source flows through the conductor, the cobalt and phosphate shape a thin layer on the conductor, and O2 is produced.

    Pooled with another accelerator, for instance platinum, which could produce H2 from H2O, the arrangement could reproduce the water ripping chemical reaction that takes place during photosynthesis.

    The main advantage of this technique is that the new catalysts function even at room temperature, in electro-neutral pH water, and setting it up is easy. Yet another advantage is that sunlight has the best potential of any energy source to resolve the world's energy issues.

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    Hydrogen Fuel

    Hydrogen Fuel by Photosynthesis
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    Conclusion and References


    The major challenge for scientists exploiting solar fuels is to begin assembling jointly the components that capture sunlight, rip water to produce H2, and provide the H2 to a fuel cell. The entire setup has to be simple and cheap as well, so that it works. Let us wait patiently for the day when our homes will be powered by simple setups mimicking fauna and its way of producing food. For the scientists occupied, the noesis (philosophy: instant knowledge or ability to sense) that the energy that comes upon the Earth in one hour from the sun is more than that produced from fossil fuels worldwide in one year is encouragement enough to carry on driving the investigations onward.


    1. Stephen K. Ritter - Fuel from the Sun

    2. Cobalt Phosphate Catalyst enables Hydrogen Fuel from Photosynthesis Discover Magazine, Dec. 2009, p.50

    3. Greenbaum E, Lee J W, Blankinship S L and Tevault C V (1997b) Hydrogen and oxygen production in mutant Fud26 of Chlamydomonas reinhardtii Proceedings of the 1997 U.S. DOE Hydrogen Program Review. May 2 l-23, 1997, Hemdon, VA, in press.

    4. Bishop N I and Gaffron H (1963) On the interrelation of the mechanisms for oxygen and hydrogen evolution in adapted algae. In Photosynthetic Mechanisms in Green Plants, B. Kok and A. T. Jagendorf Eds. (Natl. Acad. Sci.-Natl. Res. Council, Washington, DC), pp. 441-45 1.