Australasian Science: Australia's authority on science since 1938

Artificial Photosynthesis: Feeding and Fuelling the Future

iStockphoto

Image: iStockphoto

By Thomas Faunce

A global scientific project using nanotechnology and synthetic biology to re-engineer photosynthesis may help solve our energy, food, water and greenhouse gas problems.

A/Prof Thomas Faunce is an Australian Research Council Future Fellow at the Australian National University. He was the scientific and administrative coordinator of the first international conference dedicated to creating a Global Artificial Photosynthesis project at Lord Howe Island in August 2011.

The full text of this article can be purchased from Informit.

Nanotechnology has been one of the most hyped terms used in science over the past decade, but the toxicological risks of various forms of nanotechnology have also caused concern. Examples have included nanoparticle forms of zinc oxide and titanium dioxide to make sunscreens that were not only effective in repelling unwanted solar radiation but also more cosmetically appealing. However, my own research revealed that one sunscreen released onto the Australian market, and never officially recalled, degraded steel roofing when accidentally applied by workmen.

Another problem area was carbon nanotubes used to make strong and lightweight building materials. I discovered that although animal models indicated that these thin and bio­persistent nanomaterials were likely to cause asbestos-like lung injury when inhaled, they were commonly used to harden pavers that were later cut to shape by an electric saw.

Then there was the use of nanosilver employed to reduce odour in clothes and grime in washing machines, despite being likely to accumulate and destroy crucial microorganisms in waste treatment systems and waterways.

I began to think that it was time to find much more positive uses for the exciting new science of nanotechnology, and in 2009 I was awarded an Australian Research Council Future Fellowship to study how nanotechnology might help solve some of the...

The full text of this article can be purchased from Informit.