Artificial photosynthesis: from basic biology to industrial application

Artificial photosynthesis: from basic biology to industrial application
Anthony Collings and Christa Critchley (eds) 
Weinheim, Germany: Wiley VCH | 2005 | 336 pp | ?90 (HB) | ISBN 3527310908 
Reviewed by Richard Cogdell

Attention is turning to possible alternative sources of clean, renewable energy as worries grow about the effects of increased atmospheric concentrations of carbon dioxide and oil prices continue to rise. It is timely, therefore, that Collings and Critchley have edited a book devoted to artificial photosynthesis. As they point out, exploiting the basic design principles of photosynthesis to produce sources of useful energy, such as hydrogen gas, using solar energy would be a major advance. 

This book presents a good mix of chapters describing studies aimed at understanding the key molecular mechanisms involved in light capture and use in the natural system and using this information to produce desired end products such as hydrogen. 

It is particularly interesting to read the chapter by Meredith et al on broadband photon-harvesting biomolecules for photovoltaics together with the one by Holt et al on the design of natural photosynthetic antenna systems. These chapters provide a very useful contrast between the photosynthetic process and the current generation of dye sensitised solar cells. It is fascinating to compare how man and nature have solved the basic engineering challenges involved in light harvesting and subsequent energy transduction. 

There are two chapters on hydrogen production. These set out the current challenges, such as oxygen sensitivity of the hydrogenases, in a very clear way and will be very helpful guides for researchers interested in this area. 

The book is very readable and is a useful addition to the literature. It would have been beneficial, however, if the economics of these various potential uses of solar energy had been discussed in 
detail. This is the big hurdle.