Harnessing the potential of one of nature’s super-enzymes to create limitless hydrogen fuel
We live in an energy-challenged world. Our demand for energy is rocketing and so to is the environmental cost of our main current source of energy - fossil fuels. Indeed, carbon emissions are now destabilising global climate and changing ocean chemistry. The stakes are high but the solution might be as close as that tree beyond your window. That's because trees, like all plants, possess molecular machinery that efficiently harvests and stores the energy of the Sun. And, according to scientists at the ANU School of Biology, this molecular machinery may hold the key to creating new and innovative energy supplies that will meet our future needs.
Professor Tom Wydrzynski and Dr Warwick Hillier lead the Photobioenergetics Group. Their research aims to understand the molecular mechanisms of photosynthesis, specifically the enzyme system called Photosystem II (or PSII). In so doing they believe it may be possible to develop a clean energy technology that will provide vast quantities of energy into the future without damaging the Earth's environment. That's a big hope but PSII is an amazing molecular process. It's the only enzyme in Nature that can use the energy from the Sun to oxidize water into molecular O2, hydrogen ions and electrons. The enzyme is present in all higher plants, many algae and cyanobacteria, and its action over time has transformed the global environment.