April 12, 2010

Virus boosts water splitting

Use a virus to form the right nanostructure and you're a step closer to efficiently extracting hydrogen from water using sunlight.

The nanodevice is made by attaching a zinc-containing molecule at one end of a genetically modified M13 virus and an iridium-oxide-containing molecule at the other end. The photosynthesis-mimicking device extracts energy from sunlight and uses it to split oxygen from water. Oxidizing water is one of the two half-reactions needed to extract hydrogen for fuel.

The zinc molecule absorbs photons and emits electrons, which travel down the wire-like virus. The iridium oxide molecule uses the energy to catalyze the oxidizing reaction. The virus-based structures are embedded in a gel to keep them from clumping together.

The researchers have also used the virus template method to make thin-film electrodes for batteries.

Research paper:
Biologically templated photocatalytic nanostructures for sustained light-driven water oxidation
Nature Nanotechnology, April 11, 2010

Researchers' contact:
Angela Belcher

Related stories and briefs:
Artificial photosynthesis gets more sun -- related research
Microbe makes most of light -- related research
Algae proteins boost solar concentrators -- related research

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