Reverse photosynthesis: Sunlight used produce chemicals energy

Reverse photosynthesis: Sunlight used to produce chemicals and energy

6:45 AM, 15th April 2016
Reverse photosynthesis: Sunlight used to produce chemicals and energy
The petrochemical industry is indispensible for the functioning of society. However, it remains problematic for both environment and climate. University of Copenhagen researchers have now made a breakthrough with the potential to transform the way we use our Earth's natural resources.

COPENHAGEN, DENMARK: Researchers at the University of Copenhagen (UC) have discovered a natural process they describe as reverse photosynthesis. In the process, the energy in solar rays breaks down, rather than builds plant material, as is the case with photosynthesis. The sunlight is collected by chlorophyll, the same molecule as used in photosynthesis.

Combined with a specific enzyme the energy of sunlight now breaks down plant biomass, with possible uses as chemicals, biofuels or other products, that might otherwise take a long time to produce. By increasing production speed while reducing pollution, the discovery has the potential to revolutionize industrial production.

The research results are published in the journal Nature Communications.

The petrochemical industry is indispensible for the functioning of society. However, it remains problematic for both environment and climate. Danish researchers based at the University of Copenhagen have now made a breakthrough with the potential to transform the way we use our Earth's natural resources:

“This is a game changer, one that could transform the industrial production of fuels and chemicals, thus serving to reduce pollution significantly," said University of Copenhagen professor Claus Felby, who heads the research.

Faster production, decreased energy consumption and less pollution

"It has always been right beneath our noses, and yet no one has ever taken note: photosynthesis by way of the sun doesn’t just allow things to grow, the same principles can be applied to break plant matter down, allowing the release of chemical substances. In other words, direct sunlight drives chemical processes. The immense energy in solar light can be used so that processes can take place without additional energy inputs,” said Felby.

Postdoc David Cannella, a fellow researcher and discoverer, explained that, "the discovery means that by using the Sun, we can produce biofuels and biochemicals for things like plastics – faster, at lower temperatures and with enhanced energy-efficiency. Some of the reactions, which currently take 24 hours, can be achieved in just 10 minutes by using the Sun."

What reverse photosynthesis is all about

Researchers have discovered that monooxygenases, a natural enzyme also used in industrial biofuel production, multiply their effectiveness when exposed to sunlight:

"We use the term "reverse photosynthesis" because the enzymes use atmospheric oxygen and the Sun's rays to break down and transform carbon bonds, in plants among other things, instead of building plants and producing oxygen as is typically understood with photosynthesis," said postdoc Klaus Benedikt Mollers.

Researchers do not yet know how widespread "reverse photosynthesis", using light, chlorophyll and monooxygenases, is in nature, but there are many indications that fungi and bacteria use reverse photosynthesis as a “Thor's hammer" to access sugars and nutrients in plants.

The future

"Reverse photosynthesis" has the potential to break down chemical bonds between carbon and hydrogen, a quality that may be developed to convert biogas-plant sourced methane into methanol, a liquid fuel, under ambient conditions. As a raw material, methanol is very attractive, because it can be used by the petrochemicals industry and processed into fuels, materials and chemicals.

Additional research and development is required before the discovery can directly benefit society, but its potential is, “one of the greatest we have seen in years,” according to Felby.

The breakthrough is the result of collaborative, multidisciplinary research at the Copenhagen Plant Science Centre that spans the disciplines of plant science, biotechnology and chemistry. The research is mainly funded by the Danish Council for Independent Research.

© University of Copenhagen News

Related Topic:

Inspired by photosynthesis, researchers produce hydrogen fuel using sunlight



Your Comments (Up to 2000 characters)
Please respect our community and the integrity of its participants. WOC reserves the right to moderate and approve your comment.

Related News

Chemical compound that gives rare animal its popcorn-like scent found

DURHAM, US: The bearcat, the binturong, whatever you call this shy, shaggy-haired creature from Southeast Asia, many people who have met one notice th ...

Read more
Shining new light on diabetes treatment

BIRMINGHAM, UK: University of Birmingham researchers have developed a light-activated tool to show how drugs need to be adapted to combat type 2 diabe ...

Read more
Praxair to supply oxygen for glassmaker Libbey in Netherlands

DANBURY, US: Praxair Inc said it has agreed with Libbey, one of the largest glassware and tableware manufacturers globally, to supply it with Praxair& ...

Read more
BASF improves power capacity with battery material license in US

ISELIN/LEXINGTON, US: BASF SE said that has been granted a license under the intellectual property of CAMX Power LLC (CAMX) relating to the CAMX suite ...

Read more
Albemarle CFO resumes work following temporary medical leave

BATON ROUGE, US: Albemarle Corporation said that senior vice president and chief financial officer (CFO) Scott Tozier has returned to work following a ...

Read more
Israel Chemicals appoints new chief operating officer

TEL AVIV, ISRAEL: Israel Chemicals Ltd (ICL) has appointed Charlie Weidhas, currently president of industrial products, as new chief operating officer ...

Read more uses cookies to ensure that we give you the best experience on our website. By using this site, you agree to our Privacy Policy and our Terms of Use. X