Japanese scientists may have unlocked the key to replicating how plants perform photosynthesis, according to new research, which could pave the way for new ways to harvest solar energy.
Plants and some bacteria can use light-harvesting supramolecules to perform photosynthesis, which converts light from the sun into chemical energy. However, although these complex supramolecules have been studied so far, humans have not been able to reproduce them artificially.
Until now, scientists say.
Peer-reviewed papers Journal Chemical Communications Last week, researchers outlined how they were able to synthesize and study the formation of light-harvesting supramolecules, which they believe could be pivotal in future solar technologies.
Supramolecules or supramolecules are entities created by two or more molecules held together non-covalently, the best-known example being the double helix structure of DNA.
Recreating light-harvesting supramolecules has eluded scientists because of how complex they are. They are composed of numerous pigments, such as chlorophyll, arranged in specific patterns that vary by species, from spiral structures that transform into large tubes in green photosynthetic bacteria to ring-like stacks in purple photosynthetic bacteria.
It is these ring-like structures that researchers have focused on in their new study. By mixing chemicals and proteins in an organic solvent, researchers discovered how the material self-assembles into ring-shaped supramolecules.
The first find was a surprise. As researchers explored the process of self-assembly in more detail, they found that there is an intermediate stage in which the molecules first form wavy nanofibers.
At this stage, researchers were able to use heat to guide the assembly process. Heating the nanofibers at 50 degrees Celsius led to the formation of smaller nanorings, which eventually bonded into the ring-like structure the researchers were aiming for.
According to the researchers, what this means is that these light-harvesting supramolecules can be synthesized by this method of thermally manipulating the molecules and adjusting the concentration of chlorophyll.
It was noted in this study that it does not require a protein scaffold, a tool often used to promote cell attachment and growth.
“Our synthesized self-assembly enables efficient solar absorption along with excitation energy transfer and transfer,” said Shogo Matsubara, an assistant professor at Nagoya Institute of Technology and a member of the research team. mentioned in the release.
“Mimicking the arrays of chlorophyll pigments observed in nature is important not only for understanding natural photosynthesis, but also for building artificial LH (light-harvesting) systems for devices such as solar cells.”
Humans already have ways of harnessing the power of the sun. It is solar technology such as solar panels.
But while solar panels use semiconductors to absorb the sun’s energy and convert it into electricity, the idea behind artificial photosynthesis is that plants store energy from the sun and use it to make water molecules. It’s about mimicking the way it splits to generate some type of energy.
The researchers say the ability to tune the structure of supramolecules using external stimuli means that in the future, smart materials could be created that can be tuned at the molecular level to better perform photosynthesis. pointed out.
It is not yet clear when these artificial light-harvesting supramolecules will be available as part of solar technology, but researchers say further investigation into their optical properties is underway.