Researchers from the University of Copenhagen in Denmark have developed a natural process, reverse photosynthesis, to produce chemicals and energy from sunlight.
The process involves breaking down plant biomass using the energy in solar rays combined with monooxygenases enzyme. The resulting product can then be used as chemicals, biofuels or other products.
According to the researchers, the monooxygenases, a natural enzyme also used in industrial biofuel production, has potential to multiply their effectiveness when exposed to sunlight.
University of Copenhagen professor Claus Felby said: "This is a game changer, one that could transform the industrial production of fuels and chemicals, thus serving to reduce pollution significantly.
"The immense energy in solar light can be used so that processes can take place without additional energy inputs."
The researchers expect the method could revolutionize industrial production by increasing production speed and reducing pollution.
Fellow researcher and discoverer Postdoc David Cannella said: "The discovery means that by using the Sun, we can produce biofuels and biochemicals for things like plastics – faster, at lower temperatures and with enhanced energy-efficiency.
"Some of the reactions, which currently take 24 hours, can be achieved in just 10 minutes by using the Sun."
Felby said that further research and development need to be carried out before process benefits society.
Image: Researchers use sunlight to break down plant biomass and produce chemicals and energy. Photo: courtesy of University of Copenhagen.