Science

Harvesting Energy From Plants: Soon to Come

By Enozia Vakil , May 14, 2013 07:48 AM EDT
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Energy conservation and development strategies are given high importance today, and that is for a good reason. With resources fast depleting and a huge population to feed, alternative sources of energy are desperately needed. This may be possible in the near future, thanks to the new research from the University of Georgia.

Researchers have now come up with a unique method to harvest energy from plants, and use it to generate electricity.

Plants, which harvest their energy from solar power, operate at almost 100 percent quantum efficiency, converting every single photon of light to an equal number of electrons, which then create sugars as food for the plants, leaving no energy go waste. The researchers made use of this mechanism of the plant to help obtain energy which may help power different instruments and devices.

"We have developed a way to interrupt photosynthesis so that we can capture the electrons before the plant uses them to make these sugars," Ramasamy, assistant professor in the UGA College of Engineering and the corresponding author of a paper describing the process in the Journal of Energy and Environmental Science, said.

To do this, the researchers first worked on separating thylakoids, which are specialized structures necessary for plant's energy capturing process, then manipulated the protein structures within the thylakoids so as to interrupt the pathway along which the electrons would flow.

Though a lot of research is still to be done before this technology hits the markets, novel methods of energy harvesting similar to these studies can help solve the current need of energy.

"Clean energy is the need of the century," Ramasay says. "This approach may one day transform our ability to generate cleaner power from sunlight using plant-based systems."

Ramasamy, who is also a member of UGA's Nanoscale Science and Engineering Center, further comments that this very technology may be particularly helpful in powering remote sensors and other portable equipments and devices that require less power to function.

Though the energy production through this method is currently very modest, it is expected to grow several times in the future, similar to hydrogen fuel cells which can now run buses and trains.

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