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Sci-Tech

This 'bionic leaf' converts sunlight and water into fuel

Researchers at Harvard have developed a means of using solar energy to convert water into a liquid fuel.

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Sunlight and water are something Earth has in abundance, and now there's a new way to use them to create liquid fuel. Based on his previous research developing a "bionic leaf", Harvard researcher Daniel Nocera has created a means of using solar power to split water into hydrogen, which is then devoured by bacteria to produce isopropyl alcohol.

In the team's previous research, the nickel-molybdenum-zinc catalyst used to split the water also created reactive oxygen species that attacked the bacteria, which could only be avoided by using higher voltages. Using a cobalt-phosphorus alloy catalyst instead does not create this species, which allows the bionic leaf to run much more efficiently. In addition, the new catalyst can self-heal, meaning it doesn't leach into the solution.

With the cobalt-phosphorus alloy, the team was also able to use the system to create isobutanol, isopentanol and bio-plastic precursor PHB.