Researchers at the University of California, Berkeley have created an “artificial leaf” that produces methane, the primary component of natural gas, using a combination of semiconducting nanowires and bacteria.
Led by Prof Peidong Yang the team has developed a “hybrid bioinorganic” system, which combines biocompatible light-capturing nanowire arrays with bacteria and mimics the natural photosynthetic process by which plants use the energy in sunlight to synthesize carbohydrates from carbon dioxide and water.
The research, detailed in the online edition of Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, is claimed to a major step towards the development of synthetic photosynthesis, a type of solar power based on the ability of plants to transform sunlight, carbon dioxide and water into sugars.
Instead of sugars, however, synthetic photosynthesis seeks to produce liquid fuels that can be stored for months or years and distributed through existing energy infrastructure.
Talking at a roundtable event, convened to discuss the potential of such technologies, Thomas Moore, a professor of chemistry and biochemistry at Arizona State University said: “Burning fossil fuels is putting carbon dioxide into the atmosphere much faster than natural photosynthesis can take it out. A system that pulls every carbon that we burn out of the air and converts it into fuel is truly carbon neutral.”