Thursday, April 14, 2011

"Swing for the fences" research?

CNET News discusses work of Nate Lewis (once involved in the "cold fusion" debate):

California Institute of Technology professor Nate Lewis on Saturday [April 9, 2011 at Yale] gave a snapshot of the "swing for the fences" research his lab is pursuing to make fuels directly from water and sunlight. Caltech last year was picked as the lead for a newly created Joint Center for Artificial Photosynthesis (JCAP) to run the Department of Energy's Fuels from Sunlight Energy Innovation Hub.

Further within the article:

Using nanotechnology, the design calls for rods of silicon "microwires," which allows the material to absorb more light. Rather than only create electricity, these fibers are treated with a catalyst to use the sun's energy for fuel production. A catalyst can react with water to produce hydrogen gas, which can be used as a fuel. A longer-term goal is to discover catalysts that use carbon dioxide from the air in the production of a liquid hydrocarbon fuel such as methanol.

Along this line, see the BiofuelsDigest post Transformers: 8 Technologies To Rock the Bio World including the text:

The key enzyme? RuBisCo. “Biofuels research,” we observed in “To fix carbon, food, energy: fix RuBisCO, “while impressive and laudable, is overly focused on midstream processing technologies and not on the key factor: the appallingly low rate at which plants convert sunlight to energy. For example, corn checks in with a 1-2 percent efficiency rate. Raise photosynthetic efficiencies to 10-12 percent.

As an observation, one can normalize on an energy basis {energy value of produced product] divided by [energy value of incident photons] or one could talk about fraction of incident photons involved in photosynthesis.


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