Rational Trigger for Optimism: The Bionic Leaf


Amidst the noise, haste, and chaos of contemporary life there are extra constructive developments for humanity than one would possibly suppose. Everyone focuses on the disasters of the local weather disaster, and whereas these do encourage our every day work, we additionally really feel it’s essential to focus on the hopeful – the very actual improvements pushing our clear energy motion ahead. The function of this new column on our weblog is to discover noteworthy causes for optimism that we observe from ReVision Energy’s entrance row seat within the renewable energy area.

The Bionic Leaf: Can We Create Effective Energy Storage ‘Fuels’ Without Carbon?

by co-founder Phil Coupe

“The Stone Age did not end because the world ran out of stones, nor will the Oil Age end because we ran out of oil,” writes economist Thomas Friedman. Tectonic shifts within the energy sector have traditionally created monumental wealth and radical societal disruptions. When New England switched from whale oil to coal, and finally petroleum, wealth shifted dramatically from seafarers to land lubbers, and oil lamps gave approach to the huge electrical grid and its myriad home equipment.

Today the renewable energy business stands at a threshold much like that of the oil business within the early 1900s, on the cusp of one of many greatest infrastructure and wealth creation alternatives in world historical past. The societal swap to fossil fuels greater than a century in the past unleashed a number of the most profound development in human historical past. Now, the Inflation Reduction Act is poised to unleash clear expertise at an excellent larger scale, however with larger potential to learn all individuals as a result of the wind and solar are infinite sources that may’t be managed by oligarchs.

Gaps in Renewable Energy Production

Photo Credit: Santa Monica Daily News

While fashionable wind, solar, hydro, and battery storage applied sciences are typically strong and dependable, it’s additionally true that the majority renewable energy is intermittent (excluding some hydropower amenities) and at present’s batteries are usually not but scalable to utterly fill the gaps in wind and solar technology.

Batteries have restricted capability, which we see within the every day must cost our cell telephones and within the wrestle to allow electrical automobiles to reflect the vary of inner combustion engines. The greatest batteries of at present obtain roughly 25% of the energy storage capability of fuels like gasoline and oil. That’s why we are able to’t depend on batteries to power a complete metropolis when the grid goes down.

A Bionic Solution

To remedy the storage drawback at large scale, Harvard University chemist Daniel Nocera has invented what he calls a “bionic leaf” that’s extra environment friendly than pure photosynthesis and might concurrently generate energy gas and storage. The leaf itself is a small man-made solar collector that makes use of daylight to create oxygen and hydrogen, which may then be transformed into fuels or fertilizers. Nocera says that storage have to be scalable so that everybody can use it and highly effective sufficient in order that fossil fuels turn into pointless and thereby out of date.

Creative Commons: The Bionic Leaf

“If you think about it, photosynthesis is amazing,” Nocera tells the Harvard Gazette. “It takes sunlight, water, and air—and then look at a tree. That’s exactly what we did, but we do it significantly better, because we turn all that energy into a fuel.” According to Nocera, the bionic leaf is 10 occasions extra environment friendly than photosynthesis. This is the equal of pulling 180 grams of carbon dioxide from the environment per kilowatt-hour of electrical energy generated. By comparability, photosynthesis solely pulls 18 grams of carbon dioxide per kilowatt-hour if we have been to think about biomass progress as electrical energy technology.

Daniel Norcera in his Harvard laboratory. Photo Credit: Mylan Cannon/The New York Times

Nocera envisions a world the place everybody can use the bionic leaf to create and retailer the energy they should power their houses, automobiles, and so forth., and farmers are in a position to create their very own energy and fertilizers. He thinks this expertise will probably be disruptive in creating international locations by serving to them largely keep away from the costly and polluting growth of fossil gas energy infrastructure. Harvard is at the moment funding a bionic leaf pilot program in India to check the expertise and decide its scalability.

Utilizing simply daylight, water and air, Nocera believes it is going to be doable for humankind to eradicate the necessity for any kind of fossil gas by means of mass deployment of bionic gardens, “and you can do it in your own backyard” he mentioned.


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