Artificial photosynthesis + Synthetic Biology = liquid fuel

“A few years ago, Daniel Nocera pioneered an “artificial leaf” that—just like the real thing—uses only the sun and water to produce energy. He touted the silicon cell as a breakthrough that could allow every home to become its own power station.

His compelling invention, a cheap wafer-thin device, attracted lots of publicity but hasn’t quite taken off. The leaf works well, Nocera says, but there’s a key flaw.

“The problem with the artificial leaf,” Nocera says, is that “it makes hydrogen. You guys don’t have an infrastructure to use hydrogen.”

By “you guys,” Nocera means the world outside the lab. Although Toyota and others companies are making cars built to run on hydrogen, emitting only water vapor, filling up is a problem: Most gas stations are set up to serve liquid fuel.

Storing the Sun

Enter Nocera’s latest creation, a collaboration with biologists at Harvard University and detailed in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences Monday. The researchers created a specially engineered bacteria that can convert hydrogen (from the artificial leaf or another source) into alcohol-based fuel.”