Scientists have been studying photosynthesis in plants for centuries, but an international team believes they have unlocked new secrets in nature's great machine that could revolutionize biofuels and fight climate change.
The team reports that it is possible to extract an electrical charge by photosynthesis. This means harvesting the maximum amount of electrons from the process for possible use in power grids and some types of batteries. It could also improve the development of biofuels.
Although it is still early days, the scientists' findings, reported in the journal Nature, could reduce greenhouse gases in the atmosphere and provide information to improve photovoltaic solar panels.
The breakthrough came when researchers observed the process of photosynthesis at extremely fast time intervals. "We can take pictures at different times that allow us to track changes in the sample really, really fast — a million billion times faster than your iPhone," he told CNET Dr. Tommy Baikie, from the Cavendish Laboratory, University of Cambridge.
Previous demonstrations have connected cyanobacteria, algae and other plants to electrodes to create so-called bio-photoelectrochemical cells that engage in the photosynthetic process to generate electricity.
Baikie reported that they were surprised to discover a completely unknown energy flow path early in the process that could allow the cargo to be extracted in a more efficient manner.