Scientists from Oak Ridge National Laboratory, Tennessee, have raised interest across the globe thanks to their latest findings which seem more Popeye than science.
Essentially, Oak Ridge National Laboratory researchers have managed to harness the natural ability of proteins found in the most unlikely of nature’s gifts, spinach, to turn sunlight into hydrogen. Scientists discovered that Light Harvesting Complex II proteins from spinach are able to self-assemble with polymers in a synthetic membrane structure which can produce hydrogen from water in the presence of direct sunlight.
According to ORNL Researcher, Hugh O’Neill, the undertaking was an ambitious move. He reflected, “Making a self-repairing synthetic photoconversion system is a pretty tall order. The ability to control structure and order in these materials for self-repair is of interest because, as the system degrades, it loses its effectiveness.”
Researchers have long sought inspiration from photosynthesis to develop new materials to harness the sun's energy for electricity and fuel production. In a step toward synthetic solar conversion systems, the ORNL researchers have demonstrated and confirmed with small-angle neutron scattering analysis that light harvesting complex II (LHC-II) proteins can self-assemble with polymers into a synthetic membrane structure and produce hydrogen.
O’Neill was keen to emphasise that the recent discoveries found roots in previous research. He added, “We’re building on the photosynthesis research to explore the development of self-assembly in biohybrid systems. The neutron studies give us direct evidence that this is occurring.”
The findings were published in the Energy & Environmental Science Journal and received support from Laboratory-Directed Research and Development funding.