Scientists at the University of East Anglia are beginning a project to make hydrogen by copying the photosynthesis process used by leaves.

Hydrogen is a renewable, zero carbon fuel that can be used in many different ways, but principally is valuable as a means of storing energy for energy that is generated when it is not needed.

Lead researcher Prof. Julea Butt, from UEA’s School of Chemistry and School of Biological Sciences, explained that the system will involve "placing tiny solar panels on microbes. These will harness sunlight and drive the production of hydrogen, from which the technologies to release energy on demand are well-advanced.

"We imagine that our photocatalysts will prove versatile and that with slight modification they will be able to harness solar energy for the manufacture of carbon-based fuels, drugs and fine chemicals.”

The research will be undertaken with colleagues from the University of Leeds and the University of Cambridge. It is funded by the Biotechnology & Biological Sciences Research Council (BBSRC).

The BBSRC’s strategy is currently to promote the commercialisation of biorenewables technologies, which include using plants, bacteria, algae and fungi as non-fossil sources of energy. The Council already funds research into making biofuels such as miscanthus and willow more stress resistant.

The Council's strategy says that advancing industrial biotechnology not only offers financial benefit and sustainable economic growth for the UK, but also promises to create thousands of new 'green collar' jobs.

The UK's share of the global industrial biotechnology market is expected to reach £4-12bn by 2025

Story: David Thorpe, News Editor