Photosynthesis converts the energy from sunlight into chemical form, excreting oxygen as a waste by-product. The overwhelming majority of life on Earth depends utterly upon this process, and humans are no exception: the plant-derived carbohydrates in food are our source of energy, and the oxygen we breathe unlocks this energy inside our cells. Since fossil fuels are formed from the ancient remains of plants and animals, our global energy supply is also derived from this same process. Ongoing research to develop clean alternatives is focussing strongly on artificial photosynthesis, but is still unable to mimic plants in efficiently converting solar energy into liquid or solid fuels.
RoboPlant will be a human-sized robot mimicking the replicable stages of photosynthesis in plants. Photovoltaic panels will absorb light and convert it into electricity. This will be used to power an electrolyser which splits water into hydrogen and oxygen. The next stage of photosynthesis, the fixation of carbon dioxide to stored sugars, is currently only achieved by real plants, so cannot be shown by RoboPlant. If humans could replicate this, our food and fuel shortages would be resolved.
Photosynthesis is vitally important for life, human existence, and our current and future energy economies. RoboPlant will provide a striking demonstration of these principles, and the problems we encounter when trying to harness them for clean energy. RoboPlant will be used in public lectures, engagement with schools, science festivals, community events and more. By showing the key steps of photosynthesis on a human scale, it will demonstrate and explain how the process works and why it matters to our lives.