Taking a leaf from nature to address the energy challenge

As the impact of climate change forces countries around the world to find alternatives to fossil fuels, a group of international experts – brought together by the ANU's Professor Tom Faunce – is taking a leaf from nature to help meet global energy demands by converting sunlight, water and carbon dioxide into food and fuel.

The group, which includes scientists, biologists, engineers, ethicists and lawyers, will come together in July at the annual Theo Murphy International Scientific meeting in the United Kingdom to discuss the prospect of artificially replicating photosynthesis, or the ability of trees and green-leafed plants to generate energy from sunlight, water and carbon dioxide.

Co-organised by Professor Tom Faunce, who works jointly across the ANU College of Law and ANU College of Medicine, Biology and the Environment, the meeting will enable participants to present snapshots of their research into artificial photosynthesis, and share understanding about how the technology could help overcome current challenges in energy production, storage and distribution.

"Artificial photosynthesis provides allows us to fully harness the power of the sun, and to use its energy in a more efficient and versatile way than we do with traditional solar," said Professor Faunce.

"Through artificial photosynthesis, we have the potential to capture sunlight – and convert it to energy by spitting water into hydrogen and oxygen and also food and fertilser absorbing atmospheric nitrogen and CO2 – in a clean, green and cost-effective way.

"Already, the benefits of artificial photosynthesis are being recognised around the world, with the US Congress having invested $US122 million to establish the Joint Centre of Artificial Photosynthesis in 2011."

In addition to scientific and technical aspects, Professor Faunce said the meeting would provide an opportunity to discuss broader issues of artificial photosynthesis, including the policy and governance considerations required for the technology to be successful.

"By bringing together experts from a range of disciplines, we can better understand the challenges facing the widespread implementation of artificial photosynthesis, and begin planning efforts to address them.

"This includes identifying the fundamental issues of proprietary rights and 'ownership' of artificial photosynthesis technologies, and the role of governments, legislators and regulators in the process.

"While artificial photosynthesis is at the cutting edge of renewable, sustainable energy, we need to tread carefully, and ensure the interests of all those involved – whether developing the initial technology, commercialising the process or purchasing the end product – are recognised and protected appropriately," said Professor Faunce.

The annual Theo Murphy International Scientific meeting to discuss artificial photosynthesis will take place at the Kavli Royal Society International Centre, Buckinghamshire, in the United Kingdom, between Tuesday 8 and Thursday 10 July 2014, with a follow-up meeting planned for 2016.

Updated:  10 August 2015/Responsible Officer:  College General Manager, ANU College of Law/Page Contact:  Law Marketing Team