A group of researchers from the University of Copenhagen have recently discovered something they describe as “reverse photosynthesis”.
This new type of photosynthesis occurs when energy within solar rays breaks down the biomass of plants instead of creating it. Sunlight is gathered through chlorophyll, just like in photosynthesis. However, the difference is the combination of an enzyme that causes the energy from sun rays to break down plant biomass in this reverse process. This reaction can be used in chemicals as well as biofuels over the long term. When this reaction is sped up, pollution is drastically increased – a finding that may just be the next big change in industrial production.
Thanks to Danish researchers at Copenhagen, the way industries use natural resources may permanently change. Researchers say these findings have always been just out of reach, and no one has made the connection quite like this during past research. They say direct sunlight is the driving force in chemical processes. David Cannella, a researcher who collaborated on the most recent discoveries says that due to the tremendous amount of energy available through natural light, additional energy inputs are not required. With only the assistance of the sun, biofuels and biochemicals can be produced much quicker, without as much heat required. The energy efficiency bonuses are astounding. He states some reactions that took a full day to complete may now be achieved in a matter of minutes.
Sunlight has been shown to multiply the effectiveness of natural enzymes, such as monooxygenases, that are currently used in the biofuel industry. Researcher Klaus Benedikt Mollers says the phrase “reverse photosynthesis” is used because these enzymes use oxygen and sun rays in order to break down and transform plants natural carbon bonds. While it is uncertain how often the process is naturally created in nature, there are studies that show fungi and bacteria using reverse photosynthesis in order to retrieve nutrients and sugar from plants.
There is still quite a bit of work to be done, but in time researchers hope this discovery will benefit society on a wide scale. As of now, Professor Claus Felby believes the potential is one of the greatest anyone has seen in years. His vision includes reverse photosynthesis assisting in breaking down chemical bonds that hold carbon and hydrogen, which may help convert plant-based methane into methanol. This liquid fuel can be used to create other fuels, materials and chemicals by the petrochemical industry.
In order to see reverse photosynthesis for yourself, you’ll need a small handful of materials: large sugar molecule, lytic polysaccharide monooxygenase (enzyme found within fungi) and chlorophyll with green leaves extract. In this example, the sugar is the biomass. All ingredients should be mixed in a test tube within direct sunlight. As you can see, the sugar (or biomass) will be broken down in a mere five minutes. Do the same process but this time remove sunlight from the equation and you will have to wait hours or possibly even days to see the same results. The energy from the sunlight makes it much easier to achieve reverse photosynthesis.
Study has been published in the journal Nature Communications.