Spinach could fuel the next wave of efficient renewable energy, say researchers at the Technion-Israel Institute of Technology. Harnessing a plant cell that uses sunlight to produce water and electricity may be a new method of converting solar energy into usable hydrogen fuel. The combination of natural (leaves) and artificial components (photovoltaic (PV) cells and electronic components) and the need to make these components communicate with each other, are complex engineering challenges that force us to join forces ”, said the professor Avner Rothschild of the Department of Materials Science and Engineering. "The study is unique in that it combines leading experts from three different faculties: biology, chemistry and materials engineering," Rothschild said.
The multidisciplinary research team included PhD students Roy Pinhassi, Dan Kallmann and Gadiel Saper under the leadership of Rothschild, Professor Noam Adir from the Department of Chemistry and Professor Gadi Schuster from the Department of Biology.
Artificial photosynthesis and solar fuel projects are on the rise, but strict regulations on bioreactor operating conditions make it difficult to commercialize the process. Working with a simple membrane extract of spinach leaves, the Haifa researchers invented a bio-photoelectrochemical cell (BPEC) that produces electricity and hydrogen from water, using sunlight. The discovery promises to change biofuel production.
The combination of man-made BPEC cells with plant membranes, which naturally absorb sunlight and efficiently convert it to electrons for storable chemical energy, paves the way for new clean technologies from renewable sources.
To produce electrical current through photosynthesis, the researchers added an iron-based compound to the solution. Iron facilitates the transfer of electrons from the spinach leaf membranes to the electrical circuit, creating an electrical current within the cell, which can be channeled to form hydrogen gas. In turn, this energy can be converted into heat and electricity by burning hydrogen, in the same way that hydrocarbon fuels are used.
Combustion of hydrocarbon fuels emits the greenhouse gas carbon dioxide into the atmosphere, but the only by-product of hydrogen combustion is clean water. This cell innovated by Israel is a closed cycle that begins with water and ends with water. Researchers believe it could be a clean and sustainable alternative fuel.
"These results demonstrate the promise of combining natural photosynthetic membranes and man-made photovoltaic cells to convert solar energy into hydrogen fuel," the researchers wrote in their report.
The study findings were published in the online journal Nature Communications. It was funded by the I-CORE (Israeli Centers of Research Excellence) program of the Planning and Budget Committee of the Council for Higher Education, the National Science Foundation, a grant from the United States Binational Foundation for Israeli Science and the Cooperation between Projects from Germany and Israel. Program.
Spinach is a great source of energy for our bodies. Now it appears that nutritious leaves can provide energy for other purposes as well.