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Scientists Develop 'Milestone' on Road to Improving Photosynthesis to Produce Renewable Energy
Plants, with their ability to turn sunlight directly into energy through photosynthesis, have long been the envy of human energy providers.
Now, scientists have developed what Cambridge University Professor of Energy & Sustainability Erwin Reisner told Newsweek was a "milestone" in "semi-artificial photosynthesis."
Reisner is the lead author in a paper published Monday in Nature Energy with the contribution of scientists from Cambridge and Ruhr University Bochum in Germany that outlined a method for splitting water into oxygen and hydrogen using a mix of biological photosynthesis and human technologies, according to a press release from St. John's College, Cambridge.
There is hope that, if an efficient form of artificial photosynthesis is developed, hydrogen could be an important source of renewable energy that does not emit carbon dioxide.
"Solar energy conversion to produce renewable fuels and chemicals—i.e., solar fuel synthesis—is an important strategy for powering our society in a post-fossil era," Reisner told Newsweek.
Natural photosynthesis has not been directly reproduced to create energy for human use because it is not very efficient.
"Natural photosynthesis is not efficient because it has evolved merely to survive so it makes the bare minimum amount of energy needed – around one-two percent of what it could potentially convert and store," study author and St. John's College PhD student Katarzyna Sokół explained in the press release.
The method Sokół helped develop increases the amount of sunlight that can be converted into energy and stored compared with natural photosynthesis.
However, previous attempts to reproduce photosynthesis artificially have not been scaled up because they require toxic or expensive catalysts.
The researchers' groundbreaking method relies on an important enzyme in algae known as hydrogenase, Newsweek reported.
Sokół explained in the press release that the researchers had been able to resurrect a process algae has stopped doing in nature.
"Hydrogenase is an enzyme present in algae that is capable of reducing protons into hydrogen. During evolution this process has been deactivated because it wasn't necessary for survival but we successfully managed to bypass the inactivity to achieve the reaction we wanted – splitting water into hydrogen and oxygen," she said.
Reisner told Newsweek that the process outlined in the paper was still new and not ready to be reproduced on an industrial scale, but that the scientists involved hoped to refine it and demonstrate its practical use in the future.
"This work overcomes many difficult challenges associated with the integration of biological and organic components into inorganic materials for the assembly of semi-artificial devices and opens up a toolbox for developing future systems for solar energy conversion," he said in the press release.
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By Tracy L. Barnett
Sources reviewed this article for accuracy.
For Sicangu Lakota water protector Cheryl Angel, Standing Rock helped her define what she stands against: an economy rooted in extraction of resources and exploitation of people and planet. It wasn't until she'd had some distance that the vision of what she stands for came into focus.
Last week, the Peruvian Palm Oil Producers' Association (JUNPALMA) promised to enter into an agreement for sustainable and deforestation-free palm oil production. The promise was secured by the U.S. based National Wildlife Federation (NWF) in collaboration with the local government, growers and the independent conservation organization Sociedad Peruana de Ecodesarrollo.
The rallying cry to build it again and to build it better than before is inspiring after a natural disaster, but it may not be the best course of action, according to new research published in the journal Science.
"Faced with global warming, rising sea levels, and the climate-related extremes they intensify, the question is no longer whether some communities will retreat—moving people and assets out of harm's way—but why, where, when, and how they will retreat," the study begins.
The researchers suggest that it is time to rethink retreat, which is often seen as a last resort and a sign of weakness. Instead, it should be seen as the smart option and an opportunity to build new communities.
"We propose a reconceptualization of retreat as a suite of adaptation options that are both strategic and managed," the paper states. "Strategy integrates retreat into long-term development goals and identifies why retreat should occur and, in doing so, influences where and when."
The billions of dollars spent to rebuild the Jersey Shore and to create dunes to protect from future storms after Superstorm Sandy in 2012 may be a waste if sea level rise inundates the entire coastline.
"There's a definite rhetoric of, 'We're going to build it back better. We're going to win. We're going to beat this. Something technological is going to come and it's going to save us,'" said A.R. Siders, an assistant professor with the disaster research center at the University of Delaware and lead author of the paper, to the New York Times. "It's like, let's step back and think for a minute. You're in a fight with the ocean. You're fighting to hold the ocean in place. Maybe that's not the battle we want to pick."
Rethinking retreat could make it a strategic, efficient, and equitable way to adapt to the climate crisis, the study says.
Dr. Siders pointed out that it has happened before. She noted that in the 1970s, the small town of Soldiers Grove, Wisconsin moved itself out of the flood plain after one too many floods. The community found and reoriented the business district to take advantage of highway traffic and powered it entirely with solar energy, as the New York Times reported.
That's an important lesson now that rising sea levels pose a catastrophic risk around the world. Nearly 75 percent of the world's cities are along shorelines. In the U.S. alone coastline communities make up nearly 40 percent of the population— more than 123 million people, which is why Siders and her research team are so forthright about the urgency and the complexities of their findings, according to Harvard Magazine.
Some of those complexities include, coordinating moves across city, state or even international lines; cultural and social considerations like the importance of burial grounds or ancestral lands; reparations for losses or damage to historic practices; long-term social and psychological consequences; financial incentives that often contradict environmental imperatives; and the critical importance of managing retreat in a way that protects vulnerable and poor populations and that doesn't exacerbate past injustices, as Harvard Magazine reported.
If communities could practice strategic retreats, the study says, doing so would not only reduce the need for people to choose among bad options, but also improve their circumstances.
"It's a lot to think about," said Siders to Harvard Magazine. "And there are going to be hard choices. It will hurt—I mean, we have to get from here to some new future state, and that transition is going to be hard.…But the longer we put off making these decisions, the worse it will get, and the harder the decisions will become."
To help the transition, the paper recommends improved access to climate-hazard maps so communities can make informed choices about risk. And, the maps need to be improved and updated regularly, the paper said as the New York Times reported.
"It's not that everywhere should retreat," said Dr. Siders to the New York Times. "It's that retreat should be an option. It should be a real viable option on the table that some places will need to use."
Leaked documents show that Jair Bolsonaro's government intends to use the Brazilian president's hate speech to isolate minorities living in the Amazon region. The PowerPoint slides, which democraciaAbierta has seen, also reveal plans to implement predatory projects that could have a devastating environmental impact.