Researchers have made tiny skyscrapers for bacteria, assisting them in generating electricity from just sunlight and water.
Researchers at the University of Cambridge developed 3D printing to create grids of high-rise nano-housing in which sun-loving bacteria grow rapidly. Anschlieend, they were able to extract the bacteria''s waste electrons, left over from photosynthesis, which could be used to power small electronics.
Other research organizations have extracted energy from photonthetic bacteria, but Cambridge researchers have found that providing them with the appropriate type of house increases the amount of energy they can extract by over an order of magnitude. The approach is competitive against traditional bioenergy generation methods and has already reached solar conversion efficiencies that can outperform many current biofuel generation methods.
Their findings, published in the journal Nature Materials, have opened new avenues for bioenergy generation and suggest that biohybrid sources of solar energy might be a major component in the zero-carbon energy mix.
Renewable energy technologies, such as silicon-based solar cells and biofuels, are far superior to fossil fuels in terms of carbon emissions, but they also have limitations, such as reliance on mining, difficulties in recycling, and a lack of dependability on farming and land use.
According to Dr Jenny Zhang of the Yusuf Hamied Department of Chemistry, our approach is a step towards developing even more sustainable renewable energy devices for the future.
Zhang and her colleagues from the Department of Biochemistry and the Department of Materials Science and Metallurgy are attempting to transform bioenergy into something viable and powerful.
Photosynthetic bacteria, or cyanobacteria, are the most abundant life from on Earth. For years, researchers have been attempting to re-wire the photosynthesis mechanisms of cyanobacteria in order to extract energy from them.
There has been a bottleneck in terms of how much energy you can actually extract from photosynthetic systems, but no one knew where the bottleneck was, according to Zhang. Most scientists assumed the bottleneck was on the biological side, in the bacteria, but weve discovered that a substantial bottleneck is actually on the material side.
cyanobacteria require plenty of sunlight than the surface of a lake in summertime. And for their ability to generate energy through photosynthesis, they must be attached to electrodes.
Custom electrodes from metal oxide nanoparticles from Cambridge were designed to perform photosynthesis with the cyanobacteria. The electrodes were then printed as long-definited, densely packed pillar structures, like a tiny city.
Zhangs'' team developed a printing technique that allows for control of several length scales, making the structures extremely customizable, which could benefit a wide range of industries.
According to Zhang, electrodes have excellent light-handling properties, like a high-rise house with many windows. Cyanobacteria need something they can attach to and form a community with their neighbors. Our electrodes allow for a balance between lots of surface space and lots of light, like a glass skyscraper.
The researchers studied how self-assembling cyanobacteria lived in their new wired home and found that they were more effective than other current bioenergy technologies, such as biofuels. The technique increased the amount of energy extracted by over an order of magnitude over other methods of photosynthesis.
I was surprised we were able to complete the numbers we did similar numbers had been predicted for many years, but this is the first time that these numbers have been demonstrated experimentally, according to Zhang. Cyanobacteria are versatile chemical factories. Our approach allows us to tap into their energy conversion pathway at an early stage, which helps us understand how they perform energy conversion so that we can use their natural methods for renewable energy or chemical production.