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Transforming sunlight and water into renewable energy

In a paper published in Nature Catalysis, Dr. Shafeer Kalathil of Northumbria University describes new technology developed to help combat climate change and alleviate global demand for fossil fuels. Dr. Kalathil is part of a team that has discovered a chemical process that transforms sunlight, water, and carbon dioxide into acetate and oxygen to create fuels and chemicals powered by renewable energy. 

One of the advantages of this process is that it uses bacteria cultivated in an environment that doesn’t need organic inputs, doesn’t create harmful toxins, and remarkably doesn’t require electricity. The main objective of Dr. Kalathil’s project is to create another form of energy to complement renewable sources like wind and solar. 

“There has been an increase in electricity generation from renewable sources such as wind and solar, but these are intermittent in nature. To fill the gap when the wind doesn’t blow or the sun doesn’t shine, we need technologies that can create storable fuels and sustainable chemicals. Our research addresses this challenge head on,” explained Dr. Kalathil.

“Several incidents have demonstrated the fragility of the global energy supply, such as recent soaring gas prices in UK [sic], the outbreak of conflicts and civil wars in the Middle East and the ecological and humanitarian threat of a nuclear meltdown in Fukushima, Japan. The search for alternative energy sources is therefore of major global importance.”

“As well as securing additional much-needed energy supplies, our sustainable technology can reduce greenhouse gas emissions and play a key role in the global drive to achieve net zero.”

Tackling the global energy crisis will not be easy and requires a wide breadth of knowledge. “The aims of the HBBE fit with what we’re trying to achieve with our research – to address key environmental concerns facing our society today and in the future. This emerging field of research represents an interdisciplinary approach that combines the strengths of microbes, synthetic materials and analytical techniques for chemical transformation, and provides an excellent platform to produce high-value, environmentally friendly fuels and chemicals at scale,” explained Dr. Kalathil.

“We’re already in discussions with international chemical manufacturers and cosmetics producers, and the ultimate aim is to develop our technology on a commercial scale.”

The team hopes their findings will motivate up-and-coming scientists to continue searching for not-yet discovered energy sources. 

By Erin Moody , Staff Writer

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