One main goal in the renewable energy field is to find an efficient, inexpensive way to split water into hydrogen and oxygen. The hydrogen could then be used as a fuel source for vehicles or fuel cells. Typically, an electric current breaks the water down. Now, there’s a new water-splitter: a virus. M.I.T.’s Angela Belcher took her cue from plants, where special pigments capture solar energy in photosynthesis, involving the splitting of water.
Belcher and her team took a harmless virus called M13. They engineered it so that one end carries a catalyst—iridium oxide. Bound at the other end are light-sensitive pigments, zinc porphyrins. The porphyrins capture light energy, and transmit it along the virus, acting as a wire, to the other end, activating the catalyst. Which splits water into oxygen and the constituents of hydrogen, a proton and electron. The work appears in the journal Nature Nanotechnology. [See http://bit.ly/aP4HCN]
The scientists are working on ways to recombine the protons and electrons back into hydrogen atoms and then molecules of H2. They’re also seeking a cheaper catalyst than iridium. But the work could light one path to the eventual production of cleaner energy.
[The above text is an exact transcript of this podcast.]