Tuesday, July 21, 2009

A biochemical path to solar energy

Can microbes that live in swamp mud help us produce green energy?

Chemistry Professor Brian Dyer is researching that possibility, through his work at the intersection of chemistry, physics and biology. Early in his career, he began working with proteins that can do photochemistry, drawing his inspiration from natural photosynthesis.

“Ultimately, plants are taking light and storing it as chemical energy,” Dyer explains. “The elegance of some of these reactions is astounding. It’s an incredibly complex process, done with a series of proteins that are highly optimized for a specific function, such as light harvesting and water oxidation. The proteins are like tiny machines. A good analogy is an internal combustion engine, where you actually have integrated, working parts.”

He wants to covert solar energy to fuel, using a particular protein to develop a photocatalyst for solar hydrogen production — which brings up the swamp bugs.

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