Trees are natural

  • #1
RonArt

Main Question or Discussion Point

A tree seed takes water and minerals(?) from the ground, carbon and oxygen(?) from the air, and heat and light(?) from the sun. When a tree dies and dries up, it can be used as firewood, a source of energy.

Is there a way to capture that energy without the seed-tree scenario? i.e., but can we imitate a tree's energy capturing function?
 

Answers and Replies

  • #2
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You mean a solar panel? The other materials the tree gathers are still there, after you burnt it.
 
  • #3
Ygggdrasil
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This is the idea behind the "bionic leaf" and other such devices that capture solar energy (e.g. through photovotaics) and use that energy to synthesize fuel:
A tree's leaf, a blade of grass, a single algal cell: all make fuel from the simple combination of water, sunlight and carbon dioxide through the miracle of photosynthesis. Now scientists say they have replicated—and improved—that trick by combining chemistry and biology in a "bionic" leaf.

Chemist Daniel Nocera of Harvard University and his team joined forces with synthetic biologist Pamela Silver of Harvard Medical School and her team to craft a kind of living battery, which they call a bionic leaf for its melding of biology and technology. The device uses solar electricity from a photovoltaic panel to power the chemistry that splits water into oxygen and hydrogen, then adds pre-starved microbes to feed on the hydrogen and convert CO2 in the air into alcohol fuels.
https://www.scientificamerican.com/article/bionic-leaf-makes-fuel-from-sunlight-water-and-air1/

See also the associated publication in the journal, Science: http://science.sciencemag.org/content/352/6290/1210
 
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  • #5
RonArt
I guess I had "mankind imitating Nature" in mind when I posed the question. We have photo-voltaic cells, wind turbines, melting salt at the top of a tower using mirrors, hydroelectric dams, ocean wave electricity generators, and the like. My perspective was applying Occam's Razor to this particular energy capture-release "system". But, all opinions are appreciated. Maybe imitating Nature is not the best route.
 
  • #6
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You mean we could actually imitate the chemistry of photosynthesis?
I think it's possible, but it would be a lot of work to produce a not very efficient result.
It would probably be more productive to selectively breed real plants for highest photosynthetic ability.
 
  • #7
Ygggdrasil
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Maybe imitating Nature is not the best route.
I think it's possible, but it would be a lot of work to produce a not very efficient result.
Photosynthesis itself is not a very efficient means of capturing solar energy, so we are likely better off with artificial solutions rather than imitating nature. In an analysis of the issue in 2011, photovoltaics were already more efficient than natural photosynthesis:
a group of 18 biologists, chemists and physicists set out to answer the question by first creating roughly equivalent systems—comparing apples with apples, as it were rather than apples with oranges. Photosynthesis (conducted by algae) turns roughly 3 percent of incoming sunlight into organic compounds, including yet more plant cells, annually. "Artificial photosynthesis"—comprising a PV cell that provides the electricity to split water into hydrogen and oxygen—turns roughly 10 percent of incoming sunlight into usable hydrogen annually
https://www.scientificamerican.com/article/plants-versus-photovoltaics-at-capturing-sunlight/

See the associated paper in the journal Science: http://science.sciencemag.org/content/332/6031/805
 

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