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Last Updated: Tuesday, 24 July 2007, 12:41 GMT 13:41 UK
'Energy role' for photosynthesis
Leaves (picture by Martin Dohrn/Science Photo Library)
Plants convert sunlight into chemical energy
Learning how plants turn light into energy could lead to the production of cheap, emission-free power in the future, according to experts.

Leading figures in photosynthesis research have been discussing potential benefits at an event in Glasgow.

Professor Jim Barber, of Imperial College London, said they did not yet fully understand how the process works.

However, he said recent advances meant the time was right to consider it as a basis for sustainable energy in future.

Tuesday's public discussion at the Glasgow Science Centre has been organised by the Biotechnology and Biological Sciences Research Council (BBSRC).

Solar energy

Photosynthesis is the process by which plants, algae and certain bacteria convert sunlight into chemical energy.

It is thought that mimicking this process could help improve the design of solar panels or work out how to extract hydrogen from water to produce hydrogen fuel.

"More solar energy strikes the earth in one hour than all the global fossil fuels provide in a whole year," said Prof Barber.

Professor Jim Barber (right) with Jason Ormiston, chief executive of Scottish Renewables
Professor Jim Barber (right) and Jason Ormiston

"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.

"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."

Jason Ormiston, the chief executive of Scottish Renewables, said it was already possible to get cost-effective energy from solar panels.

"The holy grail is bringing the cost down and making it much more efficient than it currently is," he said.

Experts were also due to hear how an improved understanding of photosynthesis could help grow better crops for biofuels.


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