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Starting small to answer the big questions about photosynthesis

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Starting small to answer the big questions about photosynthesis

New scientific techniques are revealing the intricate role that proteins play in photosynthesis.

Despite being discovered almost 300 years ago, photosynthesis still holds many unanswered questions for science, particularly the way that proteins organise themselves to convert sunlight into chemical energy and at the same time, protect plants from too much sunlight.

Now a collaboration between researchers at the University of Leeds and Kobe University in Japan is developing a novel approach to the investigation of photosynthesis.

Using hybrid membranes that mimic natural plant membranes and advanced microscopes, they are opening photosynthesis to nanoscale investigation – the study of life at less than one billionth of a metre – to reveal the behaviour of individual protein molecules.

Dr Peter Adams, Associate Professor in the School of Physics and Astronomy at the University of Leeds, who supervised the research, said: “For many decades scientists have been developing an understanding of photosynthesis in terms of the biology of whole plants. This research is tackling it at the molecular level and the way proteins interact.

“A greater understanding of photosynthesis will benefit humankind. It will help scientists identify new ways to protect and boost crop yields, as well as inspire technologists to develop new solar-powered materials and components.”

The findings are published in the academic journal Small.

Photosynthesis happens when photons or packets of light energy cause pigments inside light-harvesting proteins to become excited. The way that these proteins arrange themselves determines how the energy is transferred to other molecules.

It is a complex system that plays out across many different pigments, proteins, and layers of light-harvesting membranes within the plant. Together, it regulates energy absorption, transfer, and the conversion of this energy into other useful forms.

To understand this intricate process, scientists have been using a technique called atomic force microscopy, which is a device capable of revealing components of a membrane that are a few nanometres in size.

The difficulty is that natural plant membranes are very fragile and can be damaged by atomic force microscopy.

But last year, the researchers at Kobe University announced that they had developed a hybrid membrane made up of natural plant material and synthetic lipids that would act as a substitute for a natural plant membrane – and crucially, is more stable when placed in an atomic force microscope.

The team at the University of Leeds used the hybrid membrane and subjected it to atomic force microscopy and another advanced visualisation technique called fluorescence lifetime imaging microscopy, or FLIM.

PhD researcher Sophie Meredith, also from the School of Physics at the University of Leeds, is the lead author in the paper. She said: “The combination of FLIM and atomic force microscopy allowed us to observe the elements of photosynthesis. It gave us an insight into the dynamic behaviors and interactions that take place.

“What is important is that we can control some of the parameters in the hybrid membrane, so we can isolate and control factors, and that helps with experimental investigation.

“In essence, we now have a ‘testbed’ and a suite of advanced imaging tools that will reveal the sub-molecular working of photosynthesis.”

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2 solar projects to supply power for 5 military installations

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2 solar projects to supply power for 5 military installations


2 solar projects to supply power for 5 military installations

by Mike Heuer

Washington DC (UPI) Jun 18, 2024






The Department of Defense is partnering with Duke Energy to provide solar power for five military bases in North and South Carolina.

The DOD announced the power partnership with Duke Energy in which all power produced by two new Duke Energy solar energy facilities in South Carolina will power the five military bases.

The military bases are the Army’s Fort Liberty, the Marine Corps’ Camp Lejeune and Cherry Point Air Station bases, and the Seymour Johnson Air Force Base in North Carolina.

The Shaw Air Force Base in South Carolina also will obtain power from the two Duke Energy solar power plants that are under construction and expected to be operational by September 2026.

“By supporting the construction of new clean, renewable energy, we are enhancing our resilience in support of the warfighter and DOD’s mission,” Brendan Owens, the DOD’s chief sustainability officer, said in a news release Tuesday.

Owens said the two Duke Energy solar arrays will “deliver power exclusively to [the] DOD over the agreement’s 15-year term and contribute to a more reliable and resilient commercial electric grid.”

The DOD agreed to pay $248 million over 15 years to obtain an estimated 4.8 million megawatt hours of carbon-free solar energy from Duke Energy.

The federal government is the nation’s largest user of energy, and President Joe Biden in 2021 ordered federal agencies to achieve 100% carbon-free electricity usage by 2030.

Biden’s executive order requires government officials to ” support the growth of America’s clean energy industry … in ways that are good for taxpayers and communities,” said Andrew Mayock, chief sustainability officer at the White House Council on Environmental Quality.

Duke Energy recently undertook its Green Source Advantage program to provide renewable energy for the five military bases.

“As our large business customers plan for the future, they also have increasingly specific goals around decarbonization,” Duke Energy Vice-President Meghan Dewey said.

Dewey said those goal “require access to renewable energy sources that can support those needs.”

DOD officials agree.

“This project is a great opportunity to assist our military departments and our warfighters in their decarbonization goals,” Air Force Col. Jennifer Neris said.

The Army’s Assistant Secretary for Installation, Energy and Environment Rachel Jacobson said the Duke Energy partnership is “essential for delivering energy resilience for the Army.”

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Argentina starts removing solar panels from Chilean border

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Argentina starts removing solar panels from Chilean border


Argentina starts removing solar panels from Chilean border

by AFP Staff Writers

Santiago (AFP) June 17, 2024






Argentina on Monday began removing solar panels that were installed by accident on the wrong side of its shared border with Chile, after a complaint from Chilean President Gabriel Boric.

In late April, the Argentine Navy inaugurated a maritime surveillance post on the border with Chile, in the Patagonia region of South America.

But the solar panels, which provide energy to that military unit, were set up on the Chilean side of the frontier.

In a statement, the Argentine Navy acknowledged the mistake and said it had “transferred personnel and means to begin the removal of a solar panel installed in the territory of the sister republic of Chile, north of the Island of Tierra del Fuego.”

Earlier in the day, Boric demanded that the panels be removed or Chile itself would do it.

“Borders are not something that can be ambiguous. It is a basic principle of respect between countries and therefore they must remove those solar panels as soon as possible or we are going to do it,” Boric told reporters during a visit to Paris.

Chile and Argentina share a border of about 5,000 kilometers (more than 3,000 miles).

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Chinese Premier Li targets clean energy in Australia visit

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Chinese Premier Li targets clean energy in Australia visit


Chinese Premier Li targets clean energy in Australia visit

by AFP Staff Writers

Sydney (AFP) June 18, 2024






Premier Li Qiang toured a Chinese-controlled lithium refiner in Perth on Tuesday, a sign of his country’s vast appetite for Australian “critical minerals” required for clean energy technologies.

Li ended his four-day visit to Australia with a tour of the low-carbon energy industry in resource-rich Western Australia.

His first stop was Tianqi Lithium Energy Australia, a 51-percent Chinese-owned venture comprising a mine for hard rock lithium ore, and a lithium refinery.

Along with at least a dozen other officials, China’s second most powerful man donned a white helmet during a rainy visit to the facility south of Perth.

The Chinese premier will also view a private research facility for clean energy-produced “green hydrogen” — touted as a fuel of the future to power heavy-duty items such as trucks and blast furnaces.

Australia extracts 52 percent of the world’s lithium, the vast majority of it exported as an ore to China for eventual refining and use in batteries, notably in China’s world-dominant electric vehicle industry.

But despite being a huge Australian customer, China’s involvement in the country’s critical mineral industry is sensitive because of its dominance of global supply chains.

Australia has only recently begun refining lithium rather than exporting the ore.

And the government has announced a strategic plan to develop new supply chains with friendly countries for critical minerals such as lithium, nickel and so-called rare earths.

Earlier this year, the government ordered five China-linked shareholders to sell off a combined 10 percent stake in Northern Minerals, a producer of the rare earth dysprosium.

Such foreign ownership was against Australia’s “national interests”, Treasurer Jim Chalmers said.

About 99 percent of the world’s dysprosium — used in high-performance magnets — is currently produced in China.

China has invested in critical minerals in Latin America, Africa and Australia over the past 10-20 years, said Marina Zhang, associate professor at the University of Technology Sydney’s Australia-China Relations Institute.

Developing supply chains independent of China is “fine and dandy” but unlikely to be achieved even in the short to medium term, she said.

“We are facing a very time-pressing issue that is fighting against climate change — so that issue should be at the centre of the discourse,” Zhang said.

“But unfortunately the Western allies are taking the approach that China’s dominance across the supply chains of critical minerals is imposing national security threats,” she said.

China’s narrative, however, was that it was investing and making a contribution to sustainability and environmental protection, the analyst said.

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