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US-UK Co-Research Artificial Photosynthesis for Biofuels

April 1, 2011
AlgaeIndustryMagazine.com

In the British magazine The Engineer this week Andrew Czyzewski describes a new US-UK biofuels research project to artificially improve photosynthesis by harnessing the excess light energy that reaches certain algae and plants, but cannot be used due to ”bottlenecks” in natural photosynthesis. By doing this the researchers hope to increase efficiency and yield of these organisms.

A part of the project will aim to couple the photosynthetic apparatus in one bacterial species to the fuel-producing metabolism of a second species via the organism’s pili, which serve as “conductive nanowires,” according to Professor Lee Cronin, a team partner from Glasgow University, and then funnel energy directly into fuel production.

“You would have the phototroph on the top getting all the sun and the pili going down to the heterotroph, which will do the fuel production, and that will drip out through a kind of capillary network, or a sponge, and into a bunch of vessels that will be at the bottom of the reactor,” Cronin said, adding that they aim to produce biodiesel.

The team, which includes Professor Anne Jones of Arizona State University, also hopes to transfer the knowledge it gains from algae and bacteria into plants, possibly leading to a blueprint to make a fully artificial leaf capable of removing carbon dioxide from the atmosphere.

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