Is it possible that an ancient microbe, in existence for millions of years, could hold the key to making low-cost and efficient devices for future supplies of clean water? Are there patterns in protein structure that provide clues for creating artificial photosynthetic systems that are more robust and efficient than those found in nature? Can sulfur-loving bacteria living in hydrothermal vents at the bottom of the ocean provide new ways to capture and utilize methane (i.e., low-energy oxidation of methane to methanol)? As current energy sources are dwindling and the demand for energy is expected to more than double by 2050 (U.S. Department of Energy, 2005), the development of alternative sources and approaches to energy is needed. Over billions of years, biological organisms have evolved and optimized methods to create and harness energy through photosynthesis, chemosynthesis, and basic cellular processes. The underlying mechanisms by which organisms produce energy have provided researchers with a template from which they try to mimic the processes, or to inspire new techniques for producing alternative energy technologies to address society’s long-term energy needs.
Building upon a 2007 workshop (National Research Council, 2007), the National Academies Board on Chemical Sciences and Technology convened the Committee on Research Frontiers in Bioinspired Energy to organize a second workshop in 2011 which, according to the tatement of task, would explore the molecular-level frontiers of energy processes in nature through an interactive, multidisciplinary, and public format.1 Specifically, the committee was charged to feature invited presentations and include discussion of key biological energy capture, storage, and transformation processes; gaps in knowledge and barriers to transitioning the current state of knowledge into applications; and underdeveloped research opportunities that might exist beyond disciplinary boundaries. This report is an account of what occurred at the workshop, and does not attempt to present any consensus findings or recommendations of the workshop
participants. It summarizes the views expressed by workshop participants, and while the committee is responsible for the overall quality and accuracy of the report as a record of what transpired at the workshop, the views contained in the report are not necessarily those of the
Committee on Research Frontiers in Bioinspired Energy; National Research Council