Researchers within this strong research environment are trying to find new ways of utilizing sunlight in order to solve the world’s energy supply problems. They are aided by nature’s own energy process – photosynthesis.
The world’s energy consumption is estimated as being twice as large in the year 2050 compared to today. At the same time, the sunlight which hits the earth’s surface for one hour generates more energy than that consumed by humans in one year. If we could transform a part of this energy to fuel, the energy issue would be solved. Hydrogen gas, for example, could be both a cheap and environmentally friendly fuel for cars.
In the search for a clean and sustainable energy source, researchers are studying photosynthesis with the aim of creating artificial photosynthesis. More than two million years ago, certain bacteria developed the ability to extract energy from sunlight through splitting water into oxygen, protons and electrons. If the released protons are caught, they can be reduced to fuel in the form of hydrogen.
When the hydrogen gas is then combusted, water is regenerated. The goal of the researchers is to understand and model the complex biochemical reactions that take place in the cells of plants, and thus be able to improve both the quantity and quality when solar energy is transformed to biomass. They are trying, among other things, to construct an artificial leaf, an integrated unit, that will connect together all the important processes in photosynthesis. If it is successful it will be possible to control the energy production in such a system.
Both experimentalists and theorists
The research environment consists of a network of researchers from different departments within Umeå University – everyone from biologists and chemists to physicists and mathematicians, from nano experts to experts on photosynthesis – both experimentalists and theorists.