Next green energy source could be an artificial leaf, LSU researchers say

LSU researchers are exploring ways to use sunlight to create “green energy on demand,” which could help Louisiana diversify its economy. 

You probably learned about the general idea of photosynthesis—a plant’s ability to absorb and use energy from sunlight—in elementary school. But the exact mechanics are still being discovered, says David Vinyard, assistant professor in LSU’s Department of Biological Sciences.

“It’s shocking how much we don’t know about how nature converts light energy to chemical energy considering it’s happening at such a massive scale,” says Vinyard, who received a federal award in 2019 to study energy conversion. “If we can learn the chemical and physical mechanisms used by nature, we can give those blueprints to chemists and engineers to develop clean energy conversion devices.”

An artificial leaf could be an inexpensive and efficient solar fuel cell, the researchers say. As energy markets work to reduce their carbon footprints, Vinyard’s work might help Louisiana diversify its energy economy, says Jason Lanclos with the Louisiana Department of Natural Resources.

Among other research LSU has touted recently:

  • LSU astronomers are leading a collaborative scientific observing program to provide new images and information from the far side of the moon. Professors Tabetha Boyajian and Matthew Penny and a team of students are working on the design of the first lunar-based camera with the goal of launching in 2024.
  • Clinical trials have begun for COVID-19 oral therapeutics discovered using LSU-developed artificial intelligence
  • Dr. Jeffrey Carter, an LSU Health associate professor of surgery, has developed “spray-on skin” to treat burn victims. 
  • Researchers at LSU’s Pennington Biomedical Research Center are working toward an “exercise in a pill” treatment that may one day help fight obesity and diabetes. 
  • LSU graduate students Megan Chesal and Nousha Afshari are developing computational 3D replicas of human bodies, hoping to protect astronauts and their equipment from space radiation and fight cancer.