Universiteit Leiden

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25 million euros for research into energy from plants and algae

On Friday 10 July the Towards Biosolar Cells research programme was granted a budget of 25 million euros by the Dutch Government. The Ministry of Agriculture, Nature and Food Quality recommended the programme because it will contribute to green energy, improve food supplies and a create a more sustainable biomass.

Photosynthesis and artificial leaves

The research focuses on increasing the efficiency of sunlight conversion into energy and nutrients in plants and algae through photosynthesis. Part of the programme will involve the development of so-called artificial leaves.   

‘Biobased economy’

As oil, coal and gas become increasingly scarce, there is a growing need for energy alternatives and products made from petroleum such as plastic. Our economy needs to become less dependent on fossil fuels, which is why the Dutch Government has chosen to develop alternatives to achieve its aims for a biobased economy. 

Solar energy

The sun supplies as much energy every hour as the entire world population consumes in a year. Plants have a refined system for storing energy in fibres and nutrients. Increasing our understanding of that process should enable us to produce energy ourselves or improve the conversion of sunlight and make new products. The programme is also of major social importance because of its potential to provide both food and sustainable energy.

"Towards Biosolar Cells" has three main goals

  1. To raise the photosynthetic efficiency of plants, resulting in more biomass and higher energy yields per given surface area, (for instance with more, larger or heavier plants).. 
  2. The direct production of fuels and to bypass the biomass phase. Possible outcomes include photosynthetic cyanobacteria or algae that produce butanol (a form of alcohol that can be used as biofuel).  
  3. To combine natural and technological components to create solar collectors that supply fuel rather than electricity.
Professor Huub de Groot, who is carrying out research in Leiden into the molecular mechanism of photosynthesis: 'With this research, the Netherlands is the front runner in Europe for initiating research into converting energy from sunlight into clean fuels, and has also put itself among the world's leading group of researchers.’

Six universities

The initiators are six universities that will combine their international expertise in the field of photosynthesis, biophysics, biochemistry, bionanotechnology, genomics and physiology. Thirty participating companies form an innovative mix of start-ups, SMEs and large corporations in the energy sector, algae production and plant breeding. 

Solid State NMR research group

Education

In addition to the research element, another aspect focuses on education on photosynthesis. Projects will be organised at universities, higher vocational education facilities and secondary schools to increase students’ interest in scientific developments related to photosynthesis.   

Obama

Towards Biosolar Cells will ensure that the Netherlands will continue to play a leading role in this sector. The research programme is unique in its scientific challenge and social and economic impact in a new and innovative domain. The global interest in this research area is also growing. Within Europe the European Science Foundation is pressing for more attention to be paid to this field, while US President Obama explicitly mentioned artificial photosynthesis in an extra impulse programme for sustainable energy.   

Video
Watch the video of the research programme ’Towards Biosolar Cells’ 

Links

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