Comparing Photosynthetic and Photovoltaic Efficiencies and Recognizing the Potential for Improvement

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Year:
2011
Type of Publication:
Article
Authors:
  • Blankenship, Robert E.
  • Tiede, David M.
  • Barber, James
  • Brudvig, Gary W.
  • Fleming, Graham
  • Ghirardi, Maria
  • Gunner, M. R.
  • Junge, Wolfgang
  • Kramer, David M.
  • Melis, Anastasios
  • Moore, Thomas A.
  • Moser, Christopher C.
  • Nocera, Daniel G.
  • Nozik, Arthur J.
  • Ort, Donald R.
  • Parson, William W.
  • Prince, Roger C.
  • Sayre, Richard T.
Journal:
Science
Volume:
332
Number:
6031
Pages:
805-809
BibTex:
Abstract:
Comparing photosynthetic and photovoltaic efficiencies is not a simple issue. Although both processes harvest the energy in sunlight, they operate in distinctly different ways and produce different types of products: biomass or chemical fuels in the case of natural photosynthesis and nonstored electrical current in the case of photovoltaics. In order to find common ground for evaluating energy-conversion efficiency, we compare natural photosynthesis with present technologies for photovoltaic-driven electrolysis of water to produce hydrogen. Photovoltaic-driven electrolysis is the more efficient process when measured on an annual basis, yet short-term yields for photosynthetic conversion under optimal conditions come within a factor of 2 or 3 of the photovoltaic benchmark. We consider opportunities in which the frontiers of synthetic biology might be used to enhance natural photosynthesis for improved solar energy conversion efficiency.
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