I have spoken before about Einstein’s contributions to our future energy solutions. In Einstein’s pot pori I highlighted the fundamental contribution Einstein’s 1905 explanation of the photoelectric effect has made to our ability to design and understand solar panels and in Two Fusion Futures I discussed Nuclear Fusion as the possible answer for our future energy needs and again the importance of Einstein’s work in our ability to understand and deliver Fusion energy.
Recently I have become aware (Marcus Chown – What a Wonderful World) of another possible future energy source: Artificial Photosynthesis. Most of us know that Photosynthesis is the process whereby plants take in carbon dioxide and pump out oxygen. However, how does this work and what has it to do with Albert Einstein?
It is all to do with the Photon and an understanding of how photons work. Light’s energy is contained in the photon (first brought to the world by Einstein’s paper on the photoelectric effect in 1905) and in plants that energy is transferred to an electron by proteins. The electron then energises chemical processes that splits hydrogen from water and together with carbon from carbon dioxide builds sugars with a leftover of oxygen, which is then ejected by the plant. This process then, involves the production of hydrogen, which is possible future energy source. It can be used in power cells to fuel our energy needs.
Replicating this process artificially could lead to unlocking our energy needs and could transform the world.
This requires three steps:
- Light is captured and its energy transferred to an electron
- The electron is freed from its atom
- The electron is used to liberate hydrogen from water.
Without Albert Einstein’s explanation of the photoelectric effect by his introduction of light quanta (now known as Photons) we would be in the dark ages in our understanding of these processes. Once again then, his work is at the heart of a fundamental understanding of our world and leading the way for our future.