Scientists say photosynthesis has a key role in future energy supply
23 July 2007
Leading experts in photosynthesis research will say tomorrow (24 July) that understanding the fundamental processes that plants use to turn light into energy is a key way of securing cheap, emission-free energy in the future.
Speaking at a public discussion in Glasgow, organised by the Biotechnology and Biological Sciences Research Council (BBSRC), the scientists will say that furthering our understanding of photosynthesis offers an innovative way of producing environmentally friendly energy.
Prof Jim Barber of Imperial College London will say that if we can understand exactly how plants capture and store solar energy, we could mimic the natural process to design solar panels with better energy conversion rates and also develop a clean, efficient means of producing hydrogen fuel.
Prof Christine Raines of the University of Essex will discuss how a better understanding of photosynthesis could lead to improvements in plant biology and consequently better crops for biofuels.
“More solar energy strikes the earth in one hour than all the global fossil fuels provide in a whole year”, explains Prof Barber. “Early on in the history of life on earth, plants developed mechanisms that took advantage of this immense energy resource and captured it in the process that we now call photosynthesis.
“Plants use solar energy to split water into oxygen, released as ‘waste’, and hydrogen which they use to help build sugars that feed the plant. We do not fully understand how photosynthesis works, but recent key advances in plant research mean that the time is right to consider this science as a basis for future sustainable energy sourcing.
Sociologist Prof Steve Yearley from the University of Edinburgh and Prof Paul Mitchell, a renewable energy expert from the University of Aberdeen will also be on the discussion panel to discuss the social and environmental issues raised by this potential new technology. They will invite the audience to compare the potential benefits and risks of photosynthesis derived energy with biofuels.
“If carefully managed, biofuels could provide a partial solution to dwindling fossil-fuel supplies. However, the biofuels industry currently faces criticism for pushing up food prices and damaging sensitive ecosystems”, explains Prof Steve Yearley.
“Photosynthesis on the other hand, does not carry these risks. However, the development of any new technology can have far-reaching effects on society and it is important that we and the wider public assess what those might be at this early stage.
“This discussion provides an excellent opportunity for the public to have a say about this new technology, and even help shape its development.”
Notes to editors
‘Making Light of Energy’ is a public discussion at the Glasgow Science Centre, 24 July 2007, 6.30-9pm. Talk to leading scientists about how understanding plants use of solar energy could help us harness the sun’s power and discuss with social scientists the ethical implications of this technology.
The event is free and refreshments will be provided. To register to attend or for more information contact Patrick Middleton, Tel: 01793 413368, e-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org
The public discussion is running alongside the Society for Experimental Biology’s Photosynthesis 2007 conference in Glasgow.
The Biotechnology and Biological Sciences Research Council (BBSRC) is the UK funding agency for research in the life sciences. Sponsored by Government, BBSRC annually invests around £380 million in a wide range of research that makes a significant contribution to the quality of life for UK citizens and supports a number of important industrial stakeholders including the agriculture, food, chemical, healthcare and pharmaceutical sectors. http://www.bbsrc.ac.uk
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