Imagine a world with no pollution, no energy bills, and never having to worry about the word “energy” ever again. A world in which future generations breath the purest air imaginable, and global warming will be a term only found in the history books Is this future reachable? Recently I have been thinking about things like this, because in a few of my classes, I have began learning a lot about the different types of energy, and the pros and cons of each. In Principles of Engineering we learned about the development of hydrogen fuel cells and similar economically friendly energy sources, which are on the verge of a huge breakthrough in the revolution of energy. In particular, the use of solar power is growing in popularity, yet there are many drawbacks to it, the biggest being that it is extremely expensive. Also, in Ap Biology, we have covered in great detail where energy is changed in a form capable of doing work, ATP, on the molecular level, in processes known as cellular respiration and photosynthesis. So after learning about the two processes that use organic or inorganic resources to modify the form of energy, I thought that plants may be the viable solution to a clean and abundant energy.
It turns out, professors Ramaraja Ramasamy and Yogeswaran Umasankar, from the University of Georgia have also had similar ideas. Recently, they have tried to extract usable electricity from plant cells. The reason that plants are such a good option to use as energy is because they are nearly 100% efficient, meaning that plants produce about the same number of electrons as they take in photons. Currently there is no process created by humans that has been close to 100% efficient, so using plants as a source of energy would be revolutionary. In order to extract this energy, the professors developed ways to interrupt the light reactions in the thylakoids in a way that they can capture the electrons stripped off from water before they are used to create sugars for the plants. This process involves modifying the proteins embedded in the thylakoid membrane to alter the pathway in which the electrons flow. These modified proteins are attached to a specially designed backing of carbon nanotubes, cylindrical structures that are nearly 50,000 times finer than a human hair. The nanotubes act as an electrical conductor, capturing the electrons from the plant material and sending them along a wire, thus into usable electricity. There are still many things that can be improved about this process, but the professors believe they are close to commercializing it for the worlds use.
So yes, a future where all energy comes from natural sources all around us, such as plants, trees, and bushes is achievable. However, once this is created, there will be room for improvement, where this captured energy will become more efficient, and will be contained and harnessed in completely new ways. What makes this possible is the knowledge of biology, and the understanding of how molecules interact in living organisms such as living plants, and how changes can be made to make these biological organisms benefit and change the world.