National Renewable Energy Laboratory (NREL) scientists and researchers from Arizona State University (ASU) have been working on using both natural plant life and artificial leaves (respectively) in order to create hydrogen gas. NREL scientists are tweaking two iron-sulfur-containing ferredoxins of a certain strain of algae while the ASU researchers are working with artificial photosynthesis.
According to NREL, “Using sunlight and water to produce potential transportation fuels such as hydrogen is considered a promising solution in the quest for developing clean, abundant, domestic alternatives to petroleum.
“By analyzing the interacting partners and reactions catalyzed by each of the six ferredoxins (FDX), they found that FDX1 serves as the primary electron donor to hydrogen production via photosynthesis. FDX2 can do the job, but at less than half the rate, while FDX3 through FDX6 appear to play no role in this particular reaction.”
Now, the ASU researchers have built an artificial leaf that mimics natural plant life in that it takes in sunlight and water and produces hydrogen gas.
According to Science Daily, “The researchers took a closer look at how nature had overcome a related problem in the part of the photosynthetic process where water is oxidized to yield oxygen …
“…They then designed an artificial relay based on the natural one and were rewarded with a major improvement … They also found subtle magnetic features of the electronic structure of the artificial relay that mirrored those found in the natural system. Not only has the artificial system been improved, but the team understands better how the natural system works. This will be important as scientists develop the artificial leaf approach to sustainably harnessing the solar energy needed to provide the food, fuel and fiber that human needs are increasingly demanding.”
Harnessing the power of natural plant life and developing artificial leaves holds great promise for future hydrogen production. By using or imitating plants, scientists are only one or two breakthroughs away from producing cheap hydrogen at a commercial scale.