Day: June 15, 2021

Soaking up the sun: Artificial photosynthesis promises a clean, sustainable source of energy

WEST LAFAYETTE, Ind. — Humans can do lots of things that plants can’t do. We can walk around, we can talk, we can hear and see and touch. But plants have one major advantage over humans: They can make energy directly from the sun.

That process of turning sunlight directly into usable energy – called photosynthesis – may soon be a feat humans are able to mimic to harness the sun’s energy for clean, storable, efficient fuel. If so, it could open a whole new frontier of clean energy. Enough energy hits the earth in the form of sunlight in one hour to meet all human civilization’s energy needs for an entire year.

Yulia Puskhar, a biophysicist and professor of physics in Purdue’s College of Science, may have a way to harness that energy by mimicking plants.

Yulia Pushkar

Wind power and solar power, harnessed by photovoltaic cells, are the two major forms of clean energy available. Adding a third — synthetic photosynthesis — would dramatically change the renewable energy landscape. The ability to store the energy easily, without requiring bulky batteries, would dramatically improve humans’ ability to power society cleanly and efficiently.

Both wind turbines and photovoltaics have downside in terms of environmental effects and complicating factors. Pushkar hopes that artificial photosynthesis might be able to bypass those pitfalls.

“We and other researchers around the world are working incredibly hard to try to come up with accessible energy,” Pushkar said. “Energy that is clean and sustainable that we can create with nontoxic, easily available elements. Our artificial photosynthesis is the way forward.”

Photosynthesis is a complex dance of processes whereby plants convert the sun’s radiance and water molecules into usable energy in the form of glucose. To do this, they use a pigment, usually the famous chlorophyll, as well as proteins, enzymes and metals.

The closest process to artificial photosynthesis humans have today is photovoltaic technology, where a solar cell converts the sun’s energy into electricity. That process is famously inefficient, able to capture only about 20% of the sun’s energy. Photosynthesis, on the other hand, is radically more efficient; it is capable of storing 60% of the sun’s energy as chemical energy in associated biomolecules.

The efficiency of simple photovoltaic cells – solar panels – is limited by semiconductors’ ability to absorb light energy and by the cell’s ability to produce power. That limit is something scientists could surpass with synthetic photosynthesis.

“With artificial photosynthesis, there are not fundamental physical limitations,” Pushkar said. “You can very easily imagine a system that is 60% efficient because we already have a precedent in natural photosynthesis. And if we get very ambitious, we could even envision a system of up to 80% efficiency.

“Photosynthesis is massively efficient when it comes to splitting water, a first step of artificial photosynthesis. Photosystems II proteins in plants do this a thousand times a second. Blink, and it’s done.”

Pushkar’s group is mimicking the process by building her own artificial leaf analog that collects light and splits water molecules to generate hydrogen. Hydrogen can be used as a fuel by itself via fuel cells or be added to other fuels such as natural gas, or built into fuel cells to power everything from vehicles to houses to small electronic devices, laboratories and hospitals. Her most recent discovery, an insight into the way water molecules split during photosynthesis, was recently published in the journal Chem Catalysis: Cell Press.

Scientists in Pushkar’s lab experiment with natural photosystem II proteins and synthetic catalysts combinations in attempts to understand what works best – and why. She also puts a priority on using compounds and chemicals that are readily abundant on Earth, easily accessible and nontoxic to the planet.

Progress in artificial photosynthesis is complicated, though, by the fact that photosynthesis is so multifaceted, a fact bemoaned by biochemistry students everywhere.

“The reaction is very complex,” Pushkar said. “The chemistry of splitting water molecules is extremely intricate and difficult.”

Scientists have been working on artificial photosynthesis since the 1970s. That’s a long time, but not when you remember that photosynthesis took millions of years to evolve. Not only that, but scientists believe that, unlike flight, communication or intelligence, photosynthesis has evolved only once – about 3 billion years ago, only about 1.5 billion years into Earth’s existence.

Pushkar posits that within the next 10-15 years, enough progress will have been made that commercial artificial photosynthesis systems may begin to come online. Her research is funded by the National Science Foundation.

About College of Science

Purdue University’s College of Science is committed to the persistent pursuit of the mathematical and scientific knowledge that forms the very foundation of innovation. Nearly 350 tenure-track faculty conduct world-changing research and deliver a transformative education to more than 1,200 graduate students and 4,300 undergraduates. The college is a community of learners that develops practical solutions to today’s toughest challenges with degree programs in the life sciences, physical sciences, computational sciences, mathematics and data science.

About Purdue University

Purdue University is a top public research institution developing practical solutions to today’s toughest challenges. Ranked the No. 5 Most Innovative University in the United States by U.S. News & World Report, Purdue delivers world-changing research and out-of-this-world discovery. Committed to hands-on and online, real-world learning, Purdue offers a transformative education to all. Committed to affordability and accessibility, Purdue has frozen tuition and most fees at 2012-13 levels, enabling more students than ever to graduate debt-free. See how Purdue never stops in the persistent pursuit of the next giant leap at https://purdue.edu/.

Writer, Media contact: Brittany Steff; 765-494-7833; bsteff@purdue.edu 

Source: Yulia Pushkar: YPushkar@purdue.edu

The Big Oil Instagram influencers are here

Read the full story at Earther.

Earther has found at least two oil and gas companies—Shell and Phillips 66—have launched campaigns with different types of Instagram influencers. Shell is the second-largest investor-owned source of historical carbon pollution on the planet. Phillips 66 doesn’t have quite that historic footprint, but a staggering 80% shareholders recently voted for the company to address its carbon emissions tied to users. Clearly both companies could use a little image boost in the public’s eyes.

Green Chemistry Challenge Awards honor innovators

Scientific innovations that decrease or eliminate the use of hazardous chemicals, reduce greenhouse gases and result in a safer and more sustainable product are being honored with Green Chemistry Challenge Awards from the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA). Michal Freedhoff, Ph.D., principal deputy assistant administrator for the Office of Chemical Safety and Pollution Prevention at the EPA, will announce the award winners at the 25th Annual Green Chemistry & Engineering Conference, which is being held virtually June 14-18.

“The Green Chemistry Challenge Award winners exemplify how chemistry can be part of the solution to our global environmental challenges. We applaud the chemists and chemical engineers being honored this year for their innovative technology platforms, chemicals and processes that reduce the use of hazardous materials, improve efficiency and increase the recyclability of products.”

Thomas Connelly Jr., Ph.D., American Chemical Society CEO

The winning technologies are:

Academic: Srikanth Pilla, Ph.D., Clemson University, Clemson, South Carolina, is being recognized for synthesizing a biobased polyurethane foam from paper and pulp waste that is designed to be fully recyclable. This innovation provides a nontoxic alternative to make products such as automobile seat cushions, furniture and insulation.

Small Business: XploSafe LLC, Stillwater, Oklahoma, is being recognized for creating PhosRoxTM, a porous ceramic material that can absorb excess nitrogen and phosphorus from wastewater sources such as aquariums, watering ponds, swimming pools and water features. Once saturated, this material can be used as a time-release fertilizer, preventing water pollution, recycling nutrients and reducing the large environmental footprint of phosphate and nitrogen production.

Greener Synthetic Pathways: Merck Research Laboratories, Rahway, New Jersey, is being recognized for redesigning the synthesis and manufacture of gefapixant citrate, a drug to treat chronic cough. Merck reduced the total mass of materials used to create a unit of the active ingredient five-fold and increased the yield 44%, while reducing the cost of materials six-fold compared to the drug’s original manufacturing route. Flow chemistry was employed to improve process safety, and a life cycle assessment showed the new process would decrease the carbon footprint of production by more than 80%.

Greener Reaction Conditions: Bristol Myers Squibb, New York, is being recognized for developing a new class of sustainable reagents that can be applied to a range of applications, including nucleotide chemistry, a growing area of drug development. The new reagent platform bypasses the traditional approach, reducing solvent and reagent use and improving the stability of the reagents and intermediates, making them safer to use. The innovation also eliminates the need for carbon footprint-intensive cold storage, required by the current approach. 

The Design of Greener Chemicals: Colonial Chemical, Inc., South Pittsburg, Tennessee, is being recognized for developing Suga®Boost biobased, nontoxic, biodegradable surfactants from functionalized alkyl polyglucosides that perform on par with or better than the commonly used alkyl phenol ethoxylate (APE) surfactants. APEs are targeted for replacement because they have poor biodegradability in the environment, have adverse effects on aquatic and terrestrial organisms and humans, and are often contaminated with 1,4-dioxane, a carcinogen.

The Green Chemistry Challenge Awards are a collaboration between the EPA and the ACS Green Chemistry Institute®.

The ACS Green Chemistry Institute® (GCI) is an institute of the American Chemical Society dedicated to catalyzing the implementation of green and sustainable chemistry and engineering throughout the global chemistry enterprise and the Society. ACS GCI convenes industrial roundtables, holds an annual Green Chemistry & Engineering conference (gcande.org), and offers educational resources including grants, awards, webinars and workshops — encouraging scientific innovations to solve environmental and human health issues facing our world today.

The American Chemical Society (ACS) is a nonprofit organization chartered by the U.S. Congress. ACS’ mission is to advance the broader chemistry enterprise and its practitioners for the benefit of Earth and all its people.

EPA to reinstate air pollution panel disbanded under Trump

Read the full story at The Hill.

The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) will reinstate a scientific group that looks at air pollution and was disbanded under the Trump administration, a spokesperson confirmed to The Hill on Monday,

EPA spokesperson Tim Carroll said in an email that the EPA’s Science Advisory Board will issue a call “in the next few weeks” for nominations for the Particulate Matter Review Panel.

Then-EPA Administrator Andrew Wheeler disbanded the panel, made up of scientists who are considered experts on particulate matter, in 2018. 

Bipartisan lawmakers introduce bill to ban ‘forever chemicals’ in cosmetics as study finds them prevalent

Read the full story from The Hill.

Bipartisan legislation introduced Tuesday would ban the use of so-called forever chemicals in cosmetics, on the heels of a study indicating their presence in more than 100 makeup products.

The study, published Tuesday in Environmental Science and Technology Letters, found per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances (PFAS) in more than half of 231 products in eight categories. The highest levels were found in foundation, mascara and liquid lipstick products, according to the study, with most of them not listing PFAS compounds among their ingredients.

The No PFAS in Cosmetics Act, introduced in the Senate by Sens. Susan Collins (R-Maine) and Richard Blumenthal (D-Conn.), would ban the use of PFAS chemicals in cosmetics and require the Food and Drug Administration to propose a rule banning intentionally using them in cosmetics.

Solar industry launches diverse suppliers database

Read the full story from the Solar Energy Industries Association.

Today the Solar Energy Industries Association (SEIA) is releasing the Diverse Suppliers Database, a free platform that will highlight and elevate minority, women, disabled, veteran, and LGBTQ+ owned businesses operating in the solar and storage industries. More than 120 diverse companies are listed in the database, and the platform will remain open for submissions.

The database will help solar companies more thoughtfully consider their supplier networks and partnerships. The businesses listed in the database represent a variety of companies, including solar and storage installers, roofers, construction companies, electrical contractors, and other vendors or service providers in the solar and energy storage sectors.

These are the winners of 2021’s ‘Green Nobels’

Read the full story at Fast Company.

From stopping coal plants in Japan to pushing the Malawi government to ban thin plastics, the six winners of this year’s Goldman Environmental Prize show how much climate progress is made by grassroots activism.

As storms become more frequent and volatile, some ports plan for the risk — but most do not

Read the full story at Supply Chain Dive.

The interconnectedness of ports leave assets such as warehouses, trucking networks and railroads vulnerable to disruptions from climate change and rising sea levels.

Trillions of pounds of trash: New technology tries to solve an old garbage problem

Read the full story at CNBC.

The world generates trillions of pounds in solid waste each year and landfills are no solution as they leak greenhouse gas emissions contributing to climate change.

AMP Robotics thinks it can solve some of the recycling industry’s biggest challenges with an AI and machine vision-based autonomous recyclables-sorting technology.

Other innovative start-ups, like Footprint, are seeking to end the use of single-use plastics altogether and call recycling of plastic “a joke.”

Food scraps to compost: Three 8th Street restaurants using worms to combat food waste

Read the full story at BoiseDev.

Customers aren’t the only ones enjoying a meal at Bittercreek Alehouse in downtown Boise. 

Below the restaurant, through a maze of long hallways, past the prep kitchen is a room full of thousands of worms busily munching through pounds of rotting food. The invertebrates are part of a program, called Urban Worm, started by restaurant owner Dave Krick to help dispose of food waste from three of his restaurants on 8th Street. 

%d bloggers like this: