A team of researchers at the U.S. Department of Energy (DOE)’s Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory (Berkeley Lab) developing a bioinorganic hybrid approach to artificial photosynthesis have achieved another milestone. Having generated quite a buzz with their hybrid system of semiconducting nanowires and bacteria that used electrons to synthesize carbon dioxide into acetate, the team has now developed a hybrid system that produces renewable molecular hydrogen and uses it to synthesize carbon dioxide into methane, the primary constituent of natural gas.

“This study represents another key breakthrough in solar-to-chemical energy conversion efficiency and artificial photosynthesis,” says Peidong Yang, a chemist with Berkeley Lab’s Materials Sciences Division and one of the leaders of this study. “By generating renewable hydrogen and feeding it to microbes for the production of methane, we can now expect an electrical-to-chemical efficiency of better than 50 percent and a solar-to-chemical energy conversion efficiency of 10-percent if our system is coupled with state-of-art solar panel and electrolyzer.”

Yang, who also holds appointments with UC Berkeley and the Kavli Energy NanoScience Institute (Kavli-ENSI) at Berkeley, is one of three corresponding authors of a paper describing this research in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences (PNAS). The paper is titled “A hybrid bioinorganic approach to solar-to-chemical conversion.” The other corresponding authors are Michelle Chang and Christopher Chang. Both also hold joint appointments with Berkeley Lab and UC Berkeley. In addition, Chris Chang is a Howard Hughes Medical Institute (HHMI) investigator.

Photosynthesis is the process by which nature harvests the…

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