Comparing Photosynthetic and Photovoltaic Efficiencies and Recognizing the Potential for Improvement

Authors: Blankenship, R. E., Tiede, D. M., Barber, J., Brudvig, G. W., Fleming, G., Ghirardi, M., Gunner, M. R., Junge, W., Kramer, D. M., Melis, A., Moore, T. A., Moser, C. C., Nocera, D. G., Nozik, A. J., Ort, D. R., Parson, W. W., Prince, R. C., and Sayre, R. T.
Title: Comparing Photosynthetic and Photovoltaic Efficiencies and Recognizing the Potential for Improvement
Source: Science
Year: 2011
Volume: 332
Pages: 805-809

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.

DOI: 10.1126/science.1200165. May 2011


Date of online publication: Fri, 2011-05-13
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