Spinach could be the key to clean fuel

Take a break, Kale: this is a job for the original gross-tasting super-healthy green veg. Yep, Popeye’s old favourite, Spinach, is being studied for its ability to turn sunlight into a clean, efficient fuel.

An international group of physicists led by Petra Fromme, a professor of chemistry and biochemistry at Arizona State University, is experimenting with spinach to find out how it converts energy with 60% efficiency, better than any other energy system.

To understand the process, scientists buy spinach from the supermarket and then keep it in a specially built room that shields it from light and heat. (I don’t suppose anyone has a room like that for rent right now?) There, they extract a protein complex called Photosystem II that is used in photosynthesis.

Then they use a laser to simulate the sun and measure the changes in the spinach’s molecules using advanced scanning techniques. Yulia Pushkar, a Purdue assistant professor of physics, said that their testing had allowed them to find out at what times the protein moves through the different stages, bringing them closer to being able to replicate it.

They’re hoping that they’ll be able to use their findings to create an artificial form of photosynthesis which would make better use of solar energy, converting it into renewable hydrogen-based fuels.

I hope it works, both for the sake of the environment, and so that people finally realise spinach is better used for science than for dining.

Image via Daniella Segura’s Flickr.

Diane Shipley