Science

Scientists split water into hydrogen and oxygen with just sunlight

Scientists in Cambridge achieve the long-standing goal of reproducing photosynthesis in a laboratory, splitting water into hydrogen and oxygen using only the power of sunlight. Stuart McDill reports.

CAMBRIDGE & SOUTHAMPTON, ENGLAND, UK / KFAR ADUMIM, WEST BANK / PARIS, FRANCE / TORONTO, CANADA / KAMUTHI, TAMIL NADU, INDIA (Reuters) – It’s the process that makes the earth inhabitable – photosynthesis.

Plants turning sunlight and water into energy and breathing out oxygen.

Now, scientists have managed to replicate the process – using only sunlight and no extra energy.

KATARZYNA SOKOL, UNIVERSITY OF CAMBRIDGE PhD CHEMISTRY STUDENT SAYING:

“In our case we don’t exactly replicate nature because in nature the end product is glucose or sugars. In our case we use sunlight and water to produce oxygen and hydrogen. So it’s a much simpler, cleaner process.”

The new technique involves switching back on an enzyme switched off by evolution – one capable of processing hydrogen as an energy source.

KATARZYNA SOKOL, UNIVERSITY OF CAMBRIDGE PhD CHEMISTRY STUDENT:

“In the past, when we had no oxygen in the atmosphere, algae or photosynthetic organisms used hydrogen as an energy source and there was an enzyme in algae that enabled this process to happen. But then when the oxygen-rich atmosphere evolved this process an enzyme was switched off and suppressed. So in our project we wanted to re-activate this pathway and use this enzyme to create this hydrogen production in the process called water splitting.”

The method absorbs more solar light than natural photosynthesis, which only evolved to be as good as it needed to be.

KATARZYNA SOKOL, UNIVERSITY OF CAMBRIDGE PhD CHEMISTRY STUDENT:

“It’s definitely a long standing goal in general in artificial photosynthesis to have bias free systems, so to have systems that could be run purely by solar energy without any additional energy input. So this is a big goal for many different fuels, not only for solar fuels but also for bio-inspired systems.”

The work could revolutionise the systems used for renewable energy production.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.