Reverse photosynthesis breaks down plants for clean biofuels

Researchers have discovered what is being called a major milestone in the world of biofuels: reverse photosynthesis, a process that uses the sun's rays to break down plants rather than build them up. Such a discovery has two major benefits over current methods used to break down plant biomass — the process itself is faster, and because the sun is being used, the process produces far less pollution, potentially providing a solution to one of the petrochemical industry's biggest problems.

The discovery was made by researchers with the University of Copenhagen; said the study's lead, Professor Claus Felby, "This is a game changer, one that could transform the industrial production of fuels and chemicals, thus serving to reduce pollution significantly."

Another researcher responsible for the discovery, Professor David Cannella, went on to explain that biochemicals and biofuels can be made much faster using the sun than current technologies. "Some of the reactions," he said, "which currently take 24 hours, can be achieved in just 10 minutes by using the sun."

How does it work? Using the same natural enzymes used in current biofuel production, monooxygenases — when exposed to the sun's rays, these enzymes become more effective, using oxygen from the atmosphere along with the sun to break down the plant materials. Researchers are still working on the discovery, learning more about it and how it may manifest in nature, but the possibilities are huge.

SOURCE: EurekAlert