An international team of researchers has demonstrated a new technique, inspired by the process of photosynthesis in plants, which could one day be used to produce hydrogen fuel—a clean and practically unlimited source of renewable energy.
In a paper published in the journal Nature Energy, scientists from the University of Cambridge and the Ruhr University Bochum have outlined a proof-of-principle method to split water molecules into their constituent parts, hydrogen and oxygen, using sunlight.
Plants also “split” water molecules when they convert sunlight into energy during photosynthesis. While artificial photosynthesis techniques have been around for decades, they have not been adapted to produce renewable energy because these methods require the use of catalyst materials which have several drawbacks.
According to Erwin Reisner, Professor of Energy & Sustainability from Cambridge and lead author of the study, the new research is a “milestone” in the emerging field of “semi-artificial photosynthesis.” This approach harnesses the abilities of natural enzymes and combines them with artificial technology in an attempt to overcome some of the limitations of purely artificial photosynthesis techniques.