Amid the noise, rush and chaos of modern life, there are more positive developments for humanity than one might think. Everyone’s focus is on the disasters of the climate crisis, and while these drive our daily work, we also believe it’s important to highlight hope – the very real innovations that drive our climate change movement forward. ‘clean energy. The purpose of this new column on our blog is to explore notable causes of optimism that we are seeing from the front row seat of ReVision Energy in the renewable energy space.
The Bionic Leaf: Can We Create Carbon-Free Efficient Energy Storage “Fuels”?
by co-founder Phil Coupe
“The Stone Age didn’t end because the world ran out of stones, and neither will the Oil Age end because we ran out of oil,” writes economist Thomas Friedman. Tectonic shifts in the energy sector have historically created enormous wealth and radical societal disruption. As New England shifted from whale oil to coal, and eventually oil, wealth shifted dramatically from sailors to landmen, and oil lamps gave way to the vast electrical grid and to its myriad of devices.
Today, the renewable energy industry stands at a similar threshold to that of the oil industry in the early 1900s, at the dawn of one of the greatest infrastructure and wealth creation opportunities in world history. Society’s shift to fossil fuels more than a century ago sparked some of the most profound advances in human history. Now the Inflation Reduction Act is about to unleash clean technology on an even bigger scale, but with greater potential to benefit everyone, because the wind and the sun are endless resources that cannot be controlled by the oligarchs.
Gaps in renewable energy production
Although modern wind, solar, hydro and battery storage technologies are generally robust and reliable, it is also true that most renewables are intermittent (with the exception of some hydroelectric installations) and that today’s batteries are not yet scalable to completely fill the wind gaps. and solar production.
Batteries have a limited capacity, which we see in the daily need to charge our cell phones and in the struggle to allow electric vehicles to mirror the range of internal combustion engines. Today’s best batteries achieve about 25% of the energy storage capacity of fuels like gasoline and oil. That’s why we can’t rely on batteries to power an entire city when the grid fails.
A bionic solution
To solve the large-scale storage problem, Daniel Nocera, chemist at Harvard University invented what he calls a “bionic sheet” which is more efficient than natural photosynthesis and can simultaneously generate fuel and energy storage. The leaf itself is a small artificial solar collector that uses sunlight to create oxygen and hydrogen, which can then be converted into fuels or fertilizer. Nocera says storage must be scalable so everyone can use it and powerful enough that fossil fuels become useless and therefore obsolete.
“If you think about it, photosynthesis is amazing,” Nocera tells the Harvard Gazette. “It takes sunlight, water and air, and then look at a tree. That’s exactly what we’ve done, but we’re doing it much better because we’re turning all that energy into fuel. According to Nocera, the bionic leaf is 10 times more efficient than photosynthesis. This is equivalent to extracting 180 grams of carbon dioxide from the atmosphere per kilowatt hour of electricity produced. In comparison, photosynthesis extracts only 18 grams of carbon dioxide per kilowatt-hour if we were to imagine biomass growth as electricity generation.
Nocera envisions a world where everyone can use the Bionic Leaf to create and store the energy they need to power their homes, vehicles, etc., and where farmers can create their own energy and fertilizer. He believes this technology will be disruptive in developing countries by helping them largely avoid costly and polluting fossil fuel infrastructure development. Harvard is currently funding a pilot bionic foil program in India to test the technology and determine its scalability.
Using only sunlight, water and air, Nocera believes it will be possible for humanity to eliminate the need for any type of fossil fuel through the mass deployment of bionic gardens, “and you can do it in your own backyard,” he said.
This blog post was inspired by Daniel Norcera’s presentation at E2TechMaine’s leading business and economic development organization in the areas of energy, environment and clean technology. You can watch the presentation here.