Artificial Photosynthesis Could be the Key to Powering Colonies in Space
As the name suggests artificial photosynthesis is the effort to recreate what plants do. That is for humans to split water molecules into energy-bestowing hydrogen and breathable oxygen using natural sunlight in a way that’s more energy efficient.
If this can be accomplished it could not only become a more renewable form of energy, but it can also help reduce the effects of climate change by removing carbon dioxide from the atmosphere.
If scientists can unlock the secret to recreating the process whereby plants convert climate-warming CO2 into clean energy, we could theoretically produce unlimited clean energy, not only for our people here on Earth but also for those who will eventually need clean air and energy to live in space.
Of course, this would be highly beneficial to Asgardia as they work toward setting up habitable platforms in low-Earth orbit.
This goal dates back to at a1912 Science paper, but there have been many obstacles, the primary one being that it requires the use of expensive, often polluting catalysts.
But now a team of researchers at the St. John’s College at the University of Cambridge may have found a way to work around this by successfully splitting the oxygen and hydrogen molecules in water by employing a mix of natural processes and manmade technologies.
They have named the process semi-artificial photosynthesis, and claim it could help transform the development of renewable power. Their findings were published recently in Nature.
First author Katarzyna Sokó said in an email to Inverse that in comparison to natural photosynthesis, their new system makes more efficient use of the solar light spectrum, delivering high conversion yields, and bypassing many competing metabolic pathways, which is not achievable using synthetic biology or materials science alone.
The field of semi-artificial photosynthesis is relatively new. Research tries to re-create photosynthesis using a combination of synthetic biology and science materials with a focus on renewable energy applications.
The Cambridge study looked at an enzyme found in algae known as Hydrogenase, which used to split hydrogen and water molecules in a process that stopped taking place naturally since it’s no longer necessary for algae to survive.
Sokó further explained that their work offers the tools for developing future semi-artificial systems for energy conversion and ‘re-wiring’ other photosynthetic pathways. For instance, the semi-artificial tandem system application could be expanded past water-splitting to a wide range of reactions like the conversion CO2 into fuel, which could help sustain colonies on Mars.
So far, the device is just a proof of concept and Sokó stated that it’s still too fragile for industrial use. But researchers regard innovations such as these as crucial not just for ensuring a renewable energy future but also for ensuring that spacecraft of the future can travel long distances.
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When preparing news, materials from the following publications were used:
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Source: Asgardia Space News