Monday, April 12, 2010

Viral Load

In this weeks issue of Nature Nanotechnology, researchers at MIT report to have found a way to mimic plant's ability to use sunlight to split water molecules and make chemical fuel. The team used a virus, M13, an engineered, common, harmless bacterial virus to assemble a nanoscale scaffold needed to split the water molecule, essentially erasing the need for sunlight to drive the process. The virus attracts the water, binds the molecules with a catalyst (iridium oxide) and a biological pigment (zinc porphyrins), and becomes wire-like devices that can efficiently split the oxygen from the water molecules. The virus acts as the scaffolding and the catalyst and pigment trigger the reaction. Kinda like a lightning rod. Over time, these devices lose their effectiveness and so the researchers encapsulated them in a microgel matrix to preserve their uniform arrangement and keep their stability. As this split is considered a "half reaction," the researchers hope to find a similar system to preform the other half of the process, the production of hydrogen. As of now, the hydrogen atoms are split into their subatomic components, and this second reaction would combine them back into usable hydrogen atoms. The resulting hydrogen can be stored in fuel cells and used to generate electricity or make liquid fuels. Currently, the process is expensive, and to compete with other techniques (such as solar power) it would have to become more efficient and the components cheaper. But it is another method in alternative energy.

Here it is:

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