ADVERTISEMENT
See Inside October 2010

Reinventing the Leaf: Artificial Photosynthesis to Create Clean Fuel

The ultimate fuel may come not from corn or algae but directly from the sun itself



Cherie Sinnen

Like a fire-and-brimstone preacher, Nathan S. Lewis has been giving a lecture on the energy crisis that is both terrifying and exhilarating. To avoid potentially debilitating global warming, the chemist from the California Institute of Technology says civilization must be able to generate more than 10 trillion watts of clean, carbon-free energy by 2050. That level is three times the U.S.’s average energy demand of 3.2 trillion watts. Damming up every lake, stream and river on the planet, Lewis notes, would provide only five trillion watts of hydroelectricity. Nuclear power could manage the feat, but the world would have to build a new reactor every two days for the next 50 years.

Before Lewis’s crowds get too depressed, he tells them there is one source of salvation: the sun pours more energy onto the earth every hour than humankind uses in a year. But to be saved, Lewis says, humankind needs a radical breakthrough in solar-fuel technology: artificial leaves that will capture solar rays and churn out chemical fuel on the spot, much as plants do. We can burn the fuel, as we do oil or natural gas, to power cars, create heat or generate electricity, and we can store the fuel for use when the sun is down.

X

"Reinventing the Leaf: Artificial Photosynthesis to Create Clean Fuel" is available in the following issues, please make a selection below

October 2010
October 2010 - $7.99
The Dawn of Solar Power
The Dawn of Solar Power - $9.99

This is only a preview. Get the rest of this article now!

Select an option below:

Customer Sign In

*You must have purchased this issue or have a qualifying subscription to access this content


It has been identified that the institution you are trying to access this article from has institutional site license access to Scientific American on nature.com.
Click here to access this article in its entirety through site license access.

Rights & Permissions
Share this Article:

Comments

You must sign in or register as a ScientificAmerican.com member to submit a comment.
Scientific American Back To School

Back to School Sale!

12 Digital Issues + 4 Years of Archive Access just $19.99

Order Now >

X

Email this Article

X