Through biosolar cells, researchers try to improve photosynthesis, the process through which plants, algae and some bacteria capture sunlight. The product of such ‘artificial leaves’ is hydrogen for instance, that can be processed to fuels and chemicals, with CO2 and nitrogen. There are many research programs in the area of direct conversion of sunlight, and each of those takes this technology a step further.
Approaching the practically achievable maximum
The research is progressing steadily. ‘Six years ago, biosolar cells had very low efficiencies because of severe internal losses; positive and negative charges tended to cancel each other out, instead of reacting to produce chemicals,’ says Huub de Groot, professor in biophysical organic chemistry at Leiden University, and scientific director of the Dutch Biosolar Cells program. ‘The theoretical maximum is 40%, the practically achievable maximum is about three quarters of that efficiency. In the lab we now have been successful in achieving two thirds of this threshold. We increasingly develop catalysts that can process CO2. In the long run, our systems will be able to process atmospheric CO2, for the time being we process CO2 from concentrated sources, that we process to hydrocarbons.’
Click here to read the full interview with SUNRISE coordinator Huub de Groot on BioSolar Cells website.