• Question: Do you think Photosynthesis could be used to power things like cars and homes

    Asked by kyak499her to Richard B, Rachel E, Michael S, Martin M, Barbara, Amber VW, Alexander dB on 27 Feb 2024.
    • Photo: Rachel Edwards

      Rachel Edwards answered on 27 Feb 2024:


      I’m not sure it will give enough energy? But some people I work with have been designing small solar panels that go on structures that look a bit like trees, so that they can blend in more with the environment. Maybe they’ll be useful soon?

    • Photo: Alexander de Bruin

      Alexander de Bruin answered on 27 Feb 2024:


      there would have to be a huge step in technology to be able to directly harvest the energy generation from photosynthesis as useful electricity.
      From a very long-term perspective, it kind of already does power cars and homes, because the energy stored in photosynthesis is what became the compounds in coal and oil. There are options looking at using waste plant matter as a starting material for making jet fuel that are currently being scaled up across the world.

    • Photo: Martin McCoustra

      Martin McCoustra answered on 28 Feb 2024:


      We can power vehicles with light but not using photosynthesis… we use solar cells. In fact, there are races involving such vehicles… Take a look here https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Solar_car_racing

    • Photo: Michael Schubert

      Michael Schubert answered on 29 Feb 2024:


      Not at the moment, because we simply can’t get enough energy from that process naturally. Growing a plant takes a lot less energy than powering a home! We may one day learn how to “boost” photosynthesis so that we can use the chemical reaction to generate useful amounts of energy, but in the meantime, plants are already doing a great job of the things we need them to do most – like take carbon dioxide out of the atmosphere and produce oxygen!

    • Photo: Barbara Shih

      Barbara Shih answered on 29 Feb 2024:


      Scientists are certainly trying, particularly with algae (a group of water-living organisms that can do photosynthesis).
      For example, Cambridge University is working on algae powered small computer components (https://www.cam.ac.uk/research/news/scientists-create-reliable-biological-photovoltaic-cell-using-algae). There was someone that talked about algae powered lamp a few years but, but I haven’t heard more about it (https://blog.ted.com/a-streetlamp-powered-by-algae/).

    • Photo: Amber Villegas - Williamson

      Amber Villegas - Williamson answered on 1 Mar 2024:


      I absolutely love this question. This question shows an engineering mindset. Whilst at the moment we can’t it’s always important to remember we used to have horses power our cars and now they can be powered from batteries and also drive themselves. We don’t have this technology yet, but maybe it will be exactly what you invent. So here’s my question back, if we could use photosynthesis to power our cars, homes etc what do you think our world would look like?

    • Photo: Richard Birch

      Richard Birch answered on 4 Mar 2024:


      What a great question! Plants use a ‘catalyst’ to split water into Hydrogen and Oxygen, which releases energy. If you put a spark to Hydrogen where Oxygen is present, there’s a loud BANG as it releases energy, and you get water as a by-product. Its a lot easier to combine Hydrogen and Oxygen than it is to split them apart. If we could find a ‘catalyst’ – a substance that made the reaction of splitting them effortless – we could make a perpetual energy loop: splitting water, then recombining it to get the energy out. As you guessed, t’aint that simple. Even plants only get enough energy from the reaction to power growth and not enough to explode. Pity. An exploding tomato would be pretty wicked, wouldn’t it?

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