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Bio-inspired and bionic materials for enhanced photosynthesis

The amount of solar energy reaching Earth’s surface is about 12 000 times larger than the global human energy demand. However, despite huge efforts in the scientific community to harvest and efficiently exploit sunlight as a renewable and green energy source for heating, photovoltaics or artificial photosynthesis, efficient light energy harvesting remains one of the main challenges for mankind. 

Marine organisms such as corals, seaweeds and sea slugs interact synergistically with algae and bacteria in benthic environments (e.g. coral reefs, coastal sediment and seaweed habitats) for efficient harvesting and conversion of light energy into synthesis of biomass and nutrient acquisition under a wide range of light conditions. 

The “Bio-inspired and Bionic materials for Enhanced Photosynthesis” (BEEP) will use a biomimetics approach to investigate and understand the fundamental strategies of light management in a variety of marine phototrophic organisms and systems. This knowledge knowledge will be applied to design and manufacture hybrids bionic and bio-inspired systems for boosting photosynthesis in living organisms and fabrication of novel bioinspired bio-photoreactors.

BEEP is an interdisciplinary research training network funded by the EU Horizon 2020 program, where research groups with strong expertise in biology, chemistry, physics and materials science will educate the next generation of researchers in bio-inspired photonics and photosynthesis. The specific objectives are to:

  1. Explore the in vivolight field, optical properties and other mechanisms affecting photosynthetic efficiency of corals, seaweeds, photosynthetic biofilms and sea slugs from different marine habitats and light regimes
  2. Understand the nanophotonic and structural properties affecting light propagation and harvesting in marine phototrophic
  3. Apply the novel biophotonic insight from natural systems to design novel photonic materials for the improved growth of microalgae.

These research objectives can potentially have important societal impacts, especially within Europe where the development of novel technology facilitating a resource-efficient, circular economy is a key agenda.