Plant power: The ultimate way to 'go green'?

February 2, 2012

Researchers are turning to plants and solar power in the search for new sources of renewable and sustainable energy that can support the transition from rapidly depleting fossil fuels to a bio-based society. An article published by Cell Press in the February 8th issue of Trends in Plant Science discusses innovative strategies for harnessing and re-routing the chemical reactions associated with photosynthesis to efficiently produce highly valuable products.

Photosynthesis is a that uses to produce biomass that may be used as "food", such as sugars, or that can be further processed into bio-fuels. Plants, algae and some bacteria rely on to convert sunlight into , and scientists are looking for ways to tap into this natural power source.

"Plants are known to produce more than 200,000 often structurally complex bioactive natural products," explains study author, Dr. Birger Lindberg Møller, from the University of Copenhagen. "Many are valuable to humans, for example as pharmaceuticals, but are present in very low amounts or are quite difficult to isolate."

In their review, Dr. Møller and colleagues discuss approaches for utilizing and optimizing the overall solar light conversion efficiency by tapping directly into the notoriously efficient photosynthetic reactions and modifying the standard carbon flux towards formation of new end products. They describe novel strategies to facilitate light-driven synthesis of useful, high-value chemicals and biofuels.

"Sunlight is the most abundant renewable energy source on Earth," says Dr. Møller. "Synthetic biology approaches, in which known photosynthetic pathways are combined, reassembled and configured into new biosynthetic systems that evolution did not provide, constitute exciting means to develop new environmentally benign production systems to meet some of the global challenges we are facing on our planet."

The PhD student Kenneth Jensen who did most of the experimental work has now moved to the Danish biotech company Novozymes, a company which is market leading with respect to enzymes for biofuel production.

Explore further: Scientists say photosynthesis has a key role in future energy supply

More information: Light-driven chemical synthesis, Trends in Plant Science, in press.

Related Stories

Photosynthesis: a new source of electrical energy

February 18, 2010

French scientists have transformed the chemical energy generated by photosynthesis into electrical energy. They thus propose a new strategy to convert solar energy into electrical energy in an environmentally-friendly and ...

Comparing energy conversion of plants and solar cells

January 16, 2012

Scientists now have a way to more accurately compare how efficiently plants and photovoltaic, or solar, cells convert sunlight into energy, thanks to findings by a research consortium that included a U.S. Department of Agriculture ...

Recommended for you

Force triggers gene expression by stretching chromatin

August 26, 2016

How genes in our DNA are expressed into traits within a cell is a complicated mystery with many players, the main suspects being chemical. However, a new study by University of Illinois researchers and collaborators in China ...

3-D printed structures that 'remember' their shapes

August 26, 2016

Engineers from MIT and Singapore University of Technology and Design (SUTD) are using light to print three-dimensional structures that "remember" their original shapes. Even after being stretched, twisted, and bent at extreme ...

New method developed for producing some metals

August 25, 2016

The MIT researchers were trying to develop a new battery, but it didn't work out that way. Instead, thanks to an unexpected finding in their lab tests, what they discovered was a whole new way of producing the metal antimony—and ...

New electrical energy storage material shows its power

August 24, 2016

A powerful new material developed by Northwestern University chemist William Dichtel and his research team could one day speed up the charging process of electric cars and help increase their driving range.

0 comments

Please sign in to add a comment. Registration is free, and takes less than a minute. Read more

Click here to reset your password.
Sign in to get notified via email when new comments are made.