Quantum what? Entanglement! It means that the quantum state of one sub-atomic particle coincides with that of another such particle despite the fact that the particles are separated by a large distance. If the quantum state of one particle changes, then the quantum state of a second particle changes in a similar manner to correspond to the state of the first. It is like the two sub-atomic particles can “talk” to one another, despite the fact that they are nowhere near one another. What does that have to do with green tech?
Super fast quantum computers are currently being designed that exploit this quantum effect. However, recently, scientists have observed that this phenomena operates in biological systems during photosynthesis. When photosynthesis is carried out by plants, light is converted to chemical energy in the form of sugar by a series of redox reactions. The sugar is then used as an energy source for the plant. Light harvesting systems in plants apparently exploit this peculiar quantum effect to make the sugar. This discovery is ground-breaking in that this knowledge may enable the development of artificial systems that can convert light from the sun to carbohydrates. Currently, biofuels made from sugar require the the growth and harvesting of plant material to provide the carbohydrate substrate that in turn is converted to fuel. This step of the process is inefficient since biomass is difficult to transport to a plant due to the low density of the biomass and lack of infrastructure for its transport. Not only that, the carbohydrate is difficult to isolate from the plant material as it is present as a biopolymer of string of chemically linked sugars called “cellulose”. The cellulose needs to be removed from the other plant components (which is challenging) and then broken down into its component simple sugars (also challenging).
Making sugar artificially directly from sunlight circumvents these insurmountable problems. In other words, the plant itself, and all its attendant problems, is taken out of the equation altogether. Of course, making sugar from sunlight artificially will undoubtedly present its own set of challenges. In fact, some say that exploiting quantum effects to improve the speed of computers is impossible (despite the fact that it is being developed right now). Using this quantum phenomena to build artificial photosynthesis devices will likely be no less challenging. However, if this technology does transpire, there will certainly be lots of patenting opportunities for these artificial sugar making devices. Unfortunately, you or I will probably not be around to witness its development and implementation. Pie in the sky? Probably for now.