University of Cambridge > Talks.cam > Department of Biochemistry, Cambridge Science Festival Talks (2021) > How does electricity power plants?

How does electricity power plants?

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Plants and other photosynthetic organisms need water and light to grow. Water keeps the plants in shape, is the medium for transporting nutrients and, perhaps surprisingly, provides a source of electrons on which photosynthesis is based. Light is the primary source of energy for plants, and they use it to extract electrons from water in a process named ‘photo-lysis’. The extracted electrons pass as tiny electric currents through a chain of proteins and are ultimately used to reduce carbon dioxide to make sugars.

The foundations of our understanding of the flow of electrons in photosynthetic cells were laid in Cambridge sixty years ago. This has opened the door to many exciting applications, including the possibility of direct harvesting of electricity from plants and photosynthetic microorganisms to supply, almost literally, ‘green’ energy.

In this talk, Dr Paolo Bombelli from the Department of Biochemistry will show how plants use light to remove electrons from water, pass the electrons through proteins, and then use the electrons to turn carbon dioxide and water into sugars. Paolo will also demonstrate how our understanding of photosynthesis can open up many useful, and green, applications.

The talk will be followed by a Q&A session with Paolo and Professor Christopher Howe.

To keep up to date with all of the Biochemistry Department’s news for the 2021 Cambridge Festival, give us a follow on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram (@CamBiochem)!

Paolo Bombelli is based in the Department of Biochemistry at the University of Cambridge and the Department of Environmental Science and Policy at the University of Milan. He works with academics, industrial partners and non-profit organisations to combine biology, materials science and engineering, in order to translate the fundamental electrochemistry of photosynthesis into practical applications.

Christopher Howe is Professor of Plant and Microbial Biochemistry in the Department of Biochemistry at the University of Cambridge, and has spent the last forty years studying the biochemistry and evolution of photosynthesis.

This talk is part of the Department of Biochemistry, Cambridge Science Festival Talks (2021) series.

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