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Agricultural Trends

Green lungs

12.04.2019
 

What kind of herb is this? Read what secrets this green substance holds and how it breathes. One thing's for sure: without it, there would be no people or animals on Earth.

Was this picture taken by a drone flying over a swamp? No. In fact, you're looking inside a single green leaf. More precisely, you're looking at the stomata of the plant cells. They are what the leaf uses to breathe. It releases oxygen and absorbs carbon dioxide. All this serves an elementary process which is the basis of life on earth: photosynthesis. Without it, the supply of oxygen around the globe would quickly be exhausted. Of course, that would have devastating consequences: People and animals would run out of air. A full 99 percent of the Earth's oxygen comes from photosynthesis. Approximately half of this is produced by plants on land, the rest by algae and protozoa. Together, all plants bind about 123 billion tons of carbon dioxide.

It is therefore surprising that a plant's efficiency is only around one to two percent, depending on the growth phase. Nevertheless, the natural process by which plants convert sunlight into bioenergy is very efficient. It is based on complex biochemical processes, which science has not yet quite succeeded in imitating. But as for the pure yield of sunlight, i.e. efficiency, solar technology already outperforms leaves. Multilayer solar cells with an additional layer of perovskite crystals currently achieve efficiency over 27 percent. Researchers at the Friedrich Alexander University Erlangen-Nuremberg in Germany are now incorporating structures of the photosynthesis process into solar cells. According to the researchers, this could increase efficiency to up to 40 percent. Another team at the Technical University of Braunschweig (Germany) recently presented a solar film with fluorescent dye molecules that swallow light and emit it again. Photosynthesis is the inspiration behind this, since the chlorophyll dye captures the sunlight. Other scientists want to simulate the biochemical processes involved in photosynthesis and are using solar energy to split water into oxygen and hydrogen. It remains to be seen who will take that decisive step closer to nature on the road to artificial photosynthesis.

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