A new study suggests that plants can be turned into powerhouses to fuel vehicles in the future.
A team of biologists, physicists, photo chemists and solar scientists has found that plants can overcome their evolutionary legacies to become much better at using biological photosynthesis to produce energy.
The multi-junction tandem solar cell initially developed at National Renewable Energy Laboratory (NREL) has proved to be an important strategy to understand how to boost the efficiency of corn, grasses, algae, and other plants that use photosynthesis to produce stored solar energy.
According to researchers, the annually averaged efficiency of photovoltaic electrolysis based on silicon semiconductors to produce fuel in the form of hydrogen is about 10 pc.
Whereas, a plant”s annually averaged efficiency using photosynthesis to form biomass for fuel is about 1 or 2 pc.
An NREL research fellow demonstrated how a multi-junction, tandem solar cell for water splitting to produce hydrogen could provide higher efficiency – more than 40 pc.
This is possible by using multiple semiconductors and/or special photoactive organic molecules with different band gaps arranged in a tandem structure.
As plants store more solar energy efficiently, they potentially could play a greater role as alternative renewable fuel sources, the study claims.
The food that plants provide also would get a boost and that would mean less land would be required to grow an equivalent amount of food.
“It would be the biological equivalent of a tandem photovoltaic cell and those can have very high efficiencies,” said Robert Blankenship, one of the lead authors in the Science paper.
The study has been published in the journal Science.