Wednesday, April 14, 2010

How to Secure a Goverment Grant - Step One

First step towards carbon-free ‘power-plant’
Plants, including algae blooms such as this, could be a source of high-efficiency, clean bioelectricity

We’ve looked at recent research into the development of artificial photosynthesis to generate clean power, but now researchers at Stanford University have been successful in harnessing energy directly from plants as they convert sunlight into chemical energy. The researchers say it could be the first step toward generating high-efficiency bioelectricity that doesn't give off carbon dioxide as a byproduct.
To tap into the electron activity in individual algae cells the research team developed a unique, ultra-sharp nanoelectrode made of gold, specially designed for probing inside cells. They gently pushed it through the algal cell membranes, which sealed around it, and the cell stayed alive. From the photosynthesizing cells, the electrode collected electrons that had been energized by light and the researchers generated a tiny electrical current.
Plants use photosynthesis to convert light energy to chemical energy, which is stored in the bonds of sugars they use for food. The process takes place in chloroplasts, the cellular powerhouses that make sugars and give leaves and algae their green color. In the chloroplasts, water is split into oxygen, protons and electrons. Sunlight penetrates the chloroplast and zaps the electrons to a high energy level, and a protein promptly grabs them. The electrons are passed down a series of proteins, which successively capture more and more of the electrons' energy to synthesize sugars until all the electrons' energy is spent.
In their experiment, the researchers intercepted the electrons just after they had been excited by light and were at their highest energy levels. They placed the gold electrodes in the chloroplasts of algae cells and siphoned off the electrons to generate the tiny electrical current.
The result, the researchers say, is electricity production that doesn't release carbon into the atmosphere. The only byproducts of photosynthesis are protons and oxygen.
"This is potentially one of the cleanest energy sources for energy generation," said WonHyoung Ryu, the lead author of the paper detailing the research. "But the question is, is it economically feasible?"
No! but we sure could use years of generous funding to confirm that. Read more.

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