Nanotechnology Now

Our NanoNews Digest Sponsors





Heifer International

Wikipedia Affiliate Button


DHgate

Home > Press > Viruses harnessed to split water

A computer visualization of the biologically-based system shows the virus itself (in yellow) with molecules of pigment (in pink) and of the metal catalyst (brown spheres) attached to its surface. The pigment and catalyst cause water molecules to split apart when they come in contact. Graphic courtesy of Angela Belcher
A computer visualization of the biologically-based system shows the virus itself (in yellow) with molecules of pigment (in pink) and of the metal catalyst (brown spheres) attached to its surface. The pigment and catalyst cause water molecules to split apart when they come in contact. Graphic courtesy of Angela Belcher

Abstract:
MIT team's biologically based system taps the power of sunlight directly, with the aim of turning water into hydrogen fuel.

By David L. Chandler, MIT News Office

Viruses harnessed to split water

Cambridge, MA | Posted on April 13th, 2010

A team of MIT researchers has found a novel way to mimic the process by which plants use the power of sunlight to split water and make chemical fuel to power their growth. In this case, the team used a modified virus as a kind of biological scaffold that can assemble the nanoscale components needed to split the hydrogen and oxygen atoms of a water molecule.

Splitting water is one way to solve the basic problem of solar energy: It's only available when the sun shines. By using sunlight to make hydrogen from water, the hydrogen can then be stored and used at any time to generate electricity using a fuel cell, or to make liquid fuels (or be used directly) for cars and trucks.

Other researchers have made systems that use electricity, which can be provided by solar panels, to split water molecules, but the new biologically based system skips the intermediate steps and uses sunlight to power the reaction directly. The advance is described in a paper published on April 11 in Nature Nanotechnology. The Italian energy company Eni supported the research through the MIT Energy Initiative (MITEI).

The team, led by Angela Belcher, the Germeshausen Professor of Materials Science and Engineering and Biological Engineering, engineered a common, harmless bacterial virus called M13 so that it would attract and bind with molecules of a catalyst (the team used iridium oxide) and a biological pigment (zinc porphyrins). The viruses became wire-like devices that could very efficiently split the oxygen from water molecules.

Over time, however, the virus-wires would clump together and lose their effectiveness, so the researchers added an extra step: encapsulating them in a microgel matrix, so they maintained their uniform arrangement and kept their stability and efficiency.

While hydrogen obtained from water is the gas that would be used as a fuel, the splitting of oxygen from water is the more technically challenging "half-reaction" in the process, Belcher explains, so her team focused on this part. Plants and cyanobacteria (also called blue-green algae), she says, "have evolved highly organized photosynthetic systems for the efficient oxidation of water." Other researchers have tried to use the photosynthetic parts of plants directly for harnessing sunlight, but these materials can have structural stability issues.

Belcher decided that instead of borrowing plants' components, she would borrow their methods. In plant cells, natural pigments are used to absorb sunlight, while catalysts then promote the water-splitting reaction. That's the process Belcher and her team, including doctoral student Yoon Sung Nam, the lead author of the new paper, decided to imitate.

In the team's system, the viruses simply act as a kind of scaffolding, causing the pigments and catalysts to line up with the right kind of spacing to trigger the water-splitting reaction. The role of the pigments is "to act as an antenna to capture the light," Belcher explains, "and then transfer the energy down the length of the virus, like a wire. The virus is a very efficient harvester of light, with these porphyrins attached.

"We use components people have used before," she adds, "but we use biology to organize them for us, so you get better efficiency."

Using the virus to make the system assemble itself improves the efficiency of the oxygen production fourfold, Nam says. The researchers hope to find a similar biologically based system to perform the other half of the process, the production of hydrogen. Currently, the hydrogen atoms from the water get split into their component protons and electrons; a second part of the system, now being developed, would combine these back into hydrogen atoms and molecules. The team is also working to find a more commonplace, less-expensive material for the catalyst, to replace the relatively rare and costly iridium used in this proof-of-concept study.

Thomas Mallouk, the DuPont Professor of Materials Chemistry and Physics at Pennsylvania State University, who was not involved in this work, says, "This is an extremely clever piece of work that addresses one of the most difficult problems in artificial photosynthesis, namely, the nanoscale organization of the components in order to control electron transfer rates."

He adds: "There is a daunting combination of problems to be solved before this or any other artificial photosynthetic system could actually be useful for energy conversion." To be cost-competitive with other approaches to solar power, he says, the system would need to be at least 10 times more efficient than natural photosynthesis, be able to repeat the reaction a billion times, and use less expensive materials. "This is unlikely to happen in the near future," he says. "Nevertheless, the design idea illustrated in this paper could ultimately help with an important piece of the puzzle."

Belcher will not even speculate about how long it might take to develop this into a commercial product, but she says that within two years she expects to have a prototype device that can carry out the whole process of splitting water into oxygen and hydrogen, using a self-sustaining and durable system.

####

For more information, please click here

Copyright © MIT

If you have a comment, please Contact us.

Issuers of news releases, not 7th Wave, Inc. or Nanotechnology Now, are solely responsible for the accuracy of the content.

Bookmark:
Delicious Digg Newsvine Google Yahoo Reddit Magnoliacom Furl Facebook

Related News Press

News and information

Oxford Instruments’ Triton Cryofree dilution refrigerator selected by Oxford University for developing scalable quantum nanodevices September 2nd, 2015

JEOL Introduces New Best-in-Class Field Emission SEM September 2nd, 2015

TCL and QD Vision Demonstrate the Future of Wide Color Gamut Television at IFA: Color IQ Based Display is the First Commercially-Branded Television to Present Over 90% of ITU Rec. 2020 Color Gamut September 2nd, 2015

Atomic Force Microscopes from Asylum Research Guide the Development of Thin Film Deposition and Etch Processes September 2nd, 2015

Possible Futures

Silk bio-ink could help advance tissue engineering with 3-D printers September 2nd, 2015

Sediment dwelling creatures at risk from nanoparticles in common household products August 13th, 2015

Harris & Harris Group Reports Financial Statements as of June 30, 2015, and Announces a Stock Repurchase Program August 10th, 2015

Molecular trick alters rules of attraction for non-magnetic metals August 5th, 2015

Academic/Education

Sustainable nanotechnology center September 1st, 2015

National Science Foundation Selects SUNY Poly CNSE for Expanded $2.1M Northeast Advanced Technological Education Center: NSF Center Locates to NanoCollege in Support of Flourishing Tech Industry in NYS September 1st, 2015

Announcing Oxford Instruments and School of Physics signing a Memorandum of Understanding August 26th, 2015

Kwansei Gakuin University in Hyogo, Japan, uses Raman microscopy to study crystallographic defects in silicon carbide wafers August 25th, 2015

Announcements

For 2-D boron, it's all about that base: Rice University theorists show flat boron form would depend on metal substrates September 2nd, 2015

Silk bio-ink could help advance tissue engineering with 3-D printers September 2nd, 2015

Phagraphene, a 'relative' of graphene, discovered September 2nd, 2015

A marine creature's magic trick explained: Crystal structures on the sea sapphire's back appear differently depending on the angle of reflection September 2nd, 2015

Energy

For 2-D boron, it's all about that base: Rice University theorists show flat boron form would depend on metal substrates September 2nd, 2015

Phagraphene, a 'relative' of graphene, discovered September 2nd, 2015

RUSNANOPRIZE Directorate Announces New Deadline for Nominations Submission – September 11, 2015 September 1st, 2015

Hot electrons point the way to perfect light absorption: Physicists study how to achieve perfect absorption of light with the help of rough ultrathin films September 1st, 2015

Grants/Awards/Scholarships/Gifts/Contests/Honors/Records

A marine creature's magic trick explained: Crystal structures on the sea sapphire's back appear differently depending on the angle of reflection September 2nd, 2015

RUSNANOPRIZE Directorate Announces New Deadline for Nominations Submission – September 11, 2015 September 1st, 2015

$200K Awarded to Develop In Vitro Lung Test for Toxicity of Inhaled Nanomaterials: In Vitro Lung Test Designed to Protect Human Health and Replace Animal Testing September 1st, 2015

Seeing quantum motion August 30th, 2015

Solar/Photovoltaic

Phagraphene, a 'relative' of graphene, discovered September 2nd, 2015

Hot electrons point the way to perfect light absorption: Physicists study how to achieve perfect absorption of light with the help of rough ultrathin films September 1st, 2015

Artificial leaf harnesses sunlight for efficient fuel production August 30th, 2015

CWRU researchers efficiently charge a lithium-ion battery with solar cell: Coupling with perovskite solar cell holds potential for cleaner cars and more August 27th, 2015

NanoNews-Digest
The latest news from around the world, FREE



  Premium Products
NanoNews-Custom
Only the news you want to read!
 Learn More
NanoTech-Transfer
University Technology Transfer & Patents
 Learn More
NanoStrategies
Full-service, expert consulting
 Learn More











ASP
Nanotechnology Now Featured Books




NNN

The Hunger Project







Car Brands
Buy website traffic