Solar Energy Can Now Become Liquid Fuel

Bacterium converts solar energy into liquid fuel instead of using solar energy to power electricity.
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Bacterium converts solar energy into liquid fuel instead of using solar energy to power electricity.

It’s no secret that the sun’s energy can be harnessed as a viable power source. Solar panels have made their way onto roofs of homes throughout the states, and it’s a popular fuel source in developing countries. But solar energy’s currency is limited in a world that relies on liquid varieties for power. Well, until now.

With a little bacterium, hydrogen created by solar power can be converted into an alcohol-based liquid that could potentially replace gasoline to run our cars, according to PhysOrg.

The process has been several years in the making. It all started with Harvard University chemist Daniel Nocera, who designed a bionic leaf capable of creating energy by using sunlight to split water into hydrogen and oxygen back in 2011. But as PhysOrg notes, hydrogen gas “has failed to catch on as a practical fuel for cars,” so Nocera and several Harvard University researchers went a few steps further.

The new process utilizes the same leaf, but after the water is broken down into hydrogen and oxygen, it’s combined with altered bacteria Ralstonia eutropha to create isopropanol, a liquid.

It’s a brand new development, so don’t expect gasoline to disappear anytime soon. Right now, the team is working on making the process more efficient. They’re currently at about one percent — the same rate as photosynthesis in nature — but are hoping to reach five percent.

“There have been 2.6 billion years of evolution,” Nocera told PhysOrg. “Pam [Pamela Silver of the Wyss Institute at Harvard] and I working together a year and a half have already achieved the efficiency of photosynthesis.”

Top photo credit: Dominick Reuter/MIT News Office