Plants are rockstars when it comes to creating their own sustainable energy with just three simple ingredients — water, CO2, and sunlight — but scientists now have a plan to turbo-charge this fundamental biological process.
By introducing special light-harvesting polymers to algae, researchers may be able to significantly boost its photosynthesis output, and in particular the creation of fatty lipids and proteins.
The extra lipid and protein production could in turn transform algae into a super biofuel source, offering another way to move past our reliance on fossil fuels.
In the new study, published Wednesday in the journal Science Advances, the researchers explain that while algae have intrinsic potential as a biofuel source, it has struggled to meet its potential.
“Photosynthetic algae are not only primary producers in the ecological system but also economically valuable as a potential source of biofuel,” write the authors. ” However, inefficient solar-to-biofuel conversion of algae has primarily impeded the commercialization of the biofuel.”
Optimizing the photosynthetic efficiency of these “microscopic synthetic factories” opens the door to a higher yield of biofuel from organisms like algae, argue the authors. Other studies have proposed designing entirely artificial leaves to create biofuel, or amping up natural photosynthesis using photosynthetic dyes or carbon nanotubes. But this study focuses instead on tweaking an internal mechanism that controls how plants react to different wavelengths of light.
In theory, optimizing this mechanism could automatically improve the way the plant does photosynthesis.
The authors write that this kind of “artificial regulation” is “a smart and promising way to improve efficiency of natural photosynthesis.”