‘Cyborg’ bacteria delivers sunlight-sourced fuel23/08/17Energy
Scientists have created bacteria layered in semiconductors which generate a potential fuel source from sunlight, carbon dioxide and water.
So-called ‘cyborg’ bugs produce acetic acid, a chemical which can be turned into fuel and plastic.
During lab experiments the bacteria was proven to be more efficient at harvesting sunlight than plants. The research was presented at the American Chemical Society meeting in Washington, US.
Dr Kelsey Sakimoto, Harvard University, US, said: “It’s shamefully simple, we’ve harnessed a natural ability of these bacteria that had never been looked at through this lens.
“We grow them and we introduce a small amount of cadmium, and they naturally produce cadmium sulphide crystals which then agglomerate on the outsides of their bodies.”
It follows years of attempts by researchers to artificially replicate photosynthesis for many years.
Despite the fact that the process works, scientists say that it is relatively inefficient – a recurrent problem with artificial approaches developed to date.
The new approach aims to improve efficiency by equipping bacteria with solar panels.
Researchers realised that some bugs have a natural deference to cadmium, mercury or lead, which enables them to turn heavy metals into a sulphide that the bacteria express as a small crystal semiconductor on their surface.
The newly-boosted bacteria produce acetic acid, similar to vinegar, from CO2, water and light.
They have an efficiency of around 80%, which is four times the level of commercial solar panels and more than six times the level of chlorophyll.