Towards Artificial Photosynthesis

In his talk, Alexey Cherevan focuses on the idea of artificial photosynthesis – a process that aims to mimic the functions of biological systems by creating human-made materials able to convert water and carbon dioxide into useful chemicals relying solely on the energy of light. He discusses the capabilities and complexity of natural photosynthesis and shows how material scientists can be inspired by nature to recreate the process. Alexey Cherevan is a junior research group leader based at TU Wien’s Institute of Materials Chemistry.

Artificial Photosynthesis Takes a Leap Forward

German and French researchers create synthetic versions of chloroplasts, organelles where photosynthesis occurs. They used microfluidics to build cell-sized water droplets suspended in oil as compartments for critical reactions. The synthetic system was able to fix carbon in the presence of light like a plant and had all the basic characteristics of photosynthesis. The technique may be more effective than natural photosynthesis because it does not require photorespiration, a wasteful by-product of natural pathways that use oxygen to generate CO2. It could open the door to the development of genuinely self-sustaining artificial life forms, the researchers say. Researchers have created a "synthetic chloroplast" that can be programmed to self-repair and self-replicate. The authors say there is scope for pairing this system with other cell-free pathways developed by synthetic biologists. This could make it possible to prototype new metabolic processes before synthetic biologists implant them into cells.

Artificial photosynthesis turns CO2 into sustainable fuel

Transportation without oil? That’s the driving idea behind Dimensional Energy, a company that’s using artificial photosynthesis to produce the raw materials for products like jet fuel. As a finalist in the $20 million Carbon X Prize competition, the startup is in the early stages of showing how recycling CO2 into sustainable fuels could significantly reduce global emissions while also creating a massively profitable industry. Dimensional Energy’s approach to decarbonization could help drastically reduce the environmental damage caused by the aviation industry, which accounts for 2% of human-induced CO2 emissions worldwide. Artificial photosynthesis techniques could make the aviation industry carbon neutral, defined as capturing as much carbon as gets emitted. What’s more, the hydrocarbons produced by Dimensional Energy’s systems could also be used to produce other products, such as plastics or other types of fuel.