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Scientist scripts success story

Jorhat, Nov. 27: A scientist from Assam working in Switzerland has developed a new material to mimic photosynthesis, the process of turning sunlight into energy ubiquitous in plants.

Debajeet Bora at the Empa Swiss Federal Laboratories for Materials Science and Technology in Zurich has developed an inorganic nanocatalyst that serves as a molecular energy-generating machine.

The long-term goal is to deploy such materials in households to produce electricity, Bora said. The process will involve installing an artificial photosynthesis kit based on this material in a solar cell or a fuel cell.

On a large scale, the nanocatalyst may also be used for a centralised power supply unit, he said.

Scientists across the world have been pursuing artificial photosynthesis for over a decade through multiple strategies, trying to ramp up efficiency to make the process economically viable.

“In the US, the department of energy has invested $125 million to set up the Joint Center for Artificial Photosynthesis at the Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory.

Bora has just got a research award for the best PhD thesis for his research on artificial photosynthesis. He has published his research work in the Journal of Physical Chemistry.

Explaining how the artificial photosynthesis process was developed, Bora said natural photosynthesis process yielded oxygen and hydrogen that was used for producing energy by taking carbon dioxide from the atmosphere.

“Similarly in artificial photosynthesis process, the nanocatalyst produces hydrogen and oxygen with the help of sunlight and in the presence of water. The chemistry involved in this process is called photoelectrochemical water splitting. This novel technology can overcome the problem of greenhouse gas emission which is responsible for global warming, melting of the arctic ice shelf, rising sea levels, ozone holes and climatic changes and resultant production of severe typhoons and hurricanes apart from increased level of pollution.”

His research involved the building of an applicable green energy-evolving device in the small scale.

“The cyanobacteria or algae has been continuing this hydrogen evolution process since the last three billion years. During my PhD thesis work at EMPA and the University of Basel, Switzerland, I tried to mimic the photosynthesis process in cyanobacteria. I made a catalyst combined with a protein found in cyanobacteria, which acts as an antenna in absorbing sunlight. This modified catalyst gives twice the efficiency,” he said.

Bora, who hails from Jorhat, did his MSc in nanoscience and technology from Tezpur Central University and post-doctorate research at Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory, US.