Research

Will artificial photosynthesis help to cope with the climate crisis?

Plants are lungs of the planet, but they are of allThe forces are trying to cope with increasing carbon dioxide emissions and deforestation. Engineers, however, extend a helping hand to them, expanding their capabilities with the help of new technologies and creating artificial substitutes that will help them clean our atmosphere. More recently, London's Imperial College, which has one of the leading engineering schools in the UK, announced that, in conjunction with a startup Arborea, it is creating the first project of the growing system BioSolar Leaf - artificial leaves.

Arborea develops huge structures similaron solar panels in which microscopic plants are placed and which can be mounted on buildings or in open areas. Plants absorb light and carbon dioxide during photosynthesis, removing greenhouse gases from the air and producing organic material that can be recycled to extract valuable food additives — for example, omega-3 fatty acids.

The idea of ​​growing algae for productionuseful materials are not new, but the point of Arborea’s work is to make it accessible and flexible. The traditional approach is to grow algae in open ponds, which are less efficient and open to pollution, or in photobioreactors, which usually require CO2 to be supplied from the air and can be expensive to operate.

Details on how this technology solvesproblems with nutrient supply and harvesting are few. The company claims that it can remove carbon dioxide as quickly as 100 trees using the surface area of ​​just one tree, but there are no published studies confirming this, and it is difficult to compare the surface area of ​​flat panels with the surface of a complex object such as wood. If you smooth every inch of the surface of the tree, the area will be quite large.

However, the ability to install these panelsdirectly on buildings can be a promising way of absorbing the huge amounts of CO2 produced in our cities by transport and industry. And Arborea is not the only one who is trying to reach out to plants.

Artificial photosynthesis

For decades, scientists have been working on waysthe use of light-activated catalysts for splitting water into oxygen and hydrogen fuels, and more recently attempts have been made to combine this with other processes so that all kinds of products can be made from hydrogen and carbon from CO2.

In particular, in 2016, scientists from Harvardhave shown that water-splitting catalysts can be supplemented with bacteria that combine the hydrogen produced with CO2 and create oxygen, biomass, fuel, or other useful products. This approach was more efficient than CO2 conversion plants and was built using low-cost materials, but turning it into a commercially viable technology will take time.

Imitation biology

Not everyone wants to imitate biology or borrowshe's trying to suck CO2 from the atmosphere. Recently, they have been investing in startups working on the technology of direct air trapping, which has not been previously used because of the extremely high energy consumption and space requirements. The inevitable impending climate crisis changes everything.

Most approaches are aimed at usingconcentrated CO2 for the production of synthetic fuels or other useful products to create an income stream that will increase the commercial viability of these ideas. But we tend to go beyond safe greenhouse gases, so attention shifts more to non-carbon technologies.

This means trapping CO2 from the air andits subsequent long-term storage. One method would be to grow a large amount of biomass, and then its burial, imitating the process that originally created fossil fuels. Either carbon dioxide is pumped into deep underground wells.

The first option requires unnecessarily largeof land, and the second - huge amounts of already scarce and expensive renewable energy sources. Artificial photosynthesis could circumvent these problems, since it is five times more efficient than its natural counterpart, and could be cheaper than downloading.

But can this technology develop?fast enough so that it can be deployed on a large scale and in time and mitigate the worst effects of climate change is still unknown. Emission reduction is certainly a more reliable way to solve this problem. But it may be that we will see cyborgs plants in the neighborhood.

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