If Popeye had made alternative fuels, he’d have probably come up with something like this. Researchers from Oak Ridge National Laboratory (ORNL) have developed a system that converts solar energy directly into hydrogen via a “biohybrid photoconversion system.” This system combines plant proteins, photosynthesis and a synthetic polymer the team have created. Interestingly enough, the proteins used (also known as the Light Harvesting Complex II proteins) come from the common spinach plant.

The team discovered that the proteins in spinach are capable of self-assembly with polymers in a synthetic membrane structure. This means they can produce hydrogen from water in the presence of sunlight, and in essence, the spinach-membrane acts as a sort of hydrogen producing solar-panel.

The researchers used an innovative technique called “small angle neutron scattering” at ORNL’s High Flux Isotope Reactor to produce the hydrogen. Speaking about the process, ORNL researcher Hugh O’Neill, of the lab’s Center for Structural Molecular Biology said, “Making a self-repairing synthetic photo-conversion system is a pretty tall order. The ability to control structure and order in these materials for self-repair is of interest because, as the system degrades, it loses its effectiveness.”

ORNL researchers previously determined the light conversion properties of platinized photosystem I complexes and are basing their current research on that data.  “We’re building on the photosynthesis research to explore the development of self-assembly in biohybrid systems,” O’Neill said. “The neutron studies give us direct evidence that this is occurring.”

The final stage of the process sees hydrogen transformed into electricity through power cells, where it will then be used to power motors. Not a bad idea, eh? However, time will tell whether the process is practical.

+ DOE/Oak Ridge National Laboratory

via Clean Technia

Lead Image © jbachman01