I’ve talked about artificial photosynthesis before and how scientists are trying to recreate how plants turn sunlight and water into hydrogen and oxygen. I’ve talked about using solar energy and algae for this process. And, I’ve talked about using bacteria to create hydrogen.
Now, I want to talk about solar energy plus a virus named M13 that researchers at MIT are using to split water into hydrogen and oxygen. This hydrogen could be used to fuel cars.
This process uses direct solar energy (no electricity is created) to stimulate the bacteria. According to MIT, their research team, “…engineered a common, harmless bacterial virus called M13 so that it would attract and bind with molecules of a catalyst (the team used iridium oxide) and a biological pigment (zinc porphyrins). The viruses became wire-like devices that could very efficiently split the oxygen from water molecules.”
The process is much less energy intensive than the brute force electrolysis of water to create hydrogen fuel. The energy that would be spent will be on creating the devices to split the water and not on the process itself of splitting water.
The photosynthesis that occurs in naturally plants is a twofold process. First, natural pigments capture sunlight and second catalysts aid in splitting water. In the MIT method, solar panels will capture energy and transfer that energy directly to the viruses and other nanoscale structures to split water into hydrogen and oxygen.
Artificial photosynthesis is an important emerging field right now with many researchers working concurrently on the solution of splitting water using algae, bacteria, or harmless viruses to do the dirty work. More work of course is needed to perfect, scale up and commercialize these processes. But, it’s only a matter of time until this happens on a large scale.