An ANU team has successfully replicated one of the crucial steps in photosynthesis, opening the way for biological systems powered by sunlight which could manufacture hydrogen as a fuel.
“Water is abundant and so is sunlight. It is an exciting prospect to use them to create hydrogen, and do it cheaply and safely,” said Dr. Kastoori Hingorani, from the ARC Centre of Excellence for Translational Photosynthesis in the ANU Research School of Biology.
Hydrogen offers potential as a zero-carbon replacement for petroleum products, and is already used for launching space craft. However, until this work, the way that plants produce hydrogen by splitting water has been poorly understood.
The team created a protein which, when exposed to light, displays the electrical heartbeat that is the key to photosynthesis.
The system uses a naturally-occurring protein and does not need batteries or expensive metals, meaning it could be affordable in developing countries, Dr. Hingorani said.
Co-researcher Professor Ron Pace said the research opened up new possibilities for manufacturing hydrogen as a cheap and clean source of fuel.
“This is the first time we have replicated the primary capture of energy from sunlight,” Professor Pace said.
“It’s the beginning of a whole suite of possibilities, such as creating a highly efficient fuel, or to trapping atmospheric carbon.