Using sunlight, sugar and an enzyme, researchers have discovered a natural bio-fuel. Scientists from Denmark’s University of Copenhagen are calling the process reverse photosynthesis.
What is reverse photosynthesis?
“We use the term ‘reverse photosynthesis’ because the enzymes use atmospheric oxygen and the sun’s rays to break down and transform carbon bonds in plants, among other things, instead of building plants and producing oxygen as is typically understood with photosynthesis,” says postdoctoral candidate Klaus Benedikt Møllers. Photosynthesis usually helps plants harness the suns energy to grow. With reverse photosynthesis, the sun helps break down the material to be used for low impact plastics and fuels.
These findings could open doors to saving natural resources. This could lead to decreasing our dependency in the much fought over oil and gas world of petrochemicals. “This is a game changer, one that could transform the industrial production of fuels and chemicals, thus serving to reduce pollution significantly,” says University of Copenhagen Professor Claus Felby, who led the research.
It works like this…
A biomass is created using plant material such as wood pulp, straw or green plant matter. Then an enzyme called lytic polysaccharide monooxygenase is added to the biomass, followed by chlorophyll. This whole mix is then placed in full sun. Harnessing the suns energy helps the biomass’ sugars breakdown and after not much time, under 15 minutes, usually, the process is underway and stable.
Postdoctoral candidate David Cannella, who also worked on the study. “The discovery means that by using the sun, we can produce bio-fuels and biochemicals for things like plastics—faster, at lower temperatures and with enhanced energy efficiency. Some of the reactions, which currently take 24 hours, can be achieved in just 10 minutes by using the sun.” Without the sun’s energy, this process could take hours or days to complete.
With many more studies needed, the Copenhagen Plant Science Center believes this new process could help take the burden from a world of using heavy chemical processes and pollution to create fuels. Monooxygenases and natural enzymes are commonly used in making bio-fuels. This new finding simplifies and speeds up that process. The future of making fuels from easily renewable energy sources, just took a giant leap forward.
These groundbreaking findings were recently released at Nature Communications.