If nature is designed and not the product of unguided random processes, then it may exhibit optimal green energy solutions to ecosystem constraints. As I’ll suggest in this and two follow-up posts, such solutions can and should inform modern energy designs.
Nature, specifically, photosynthesis, has been criticized as being inefficient. Why? Because it is assumed to be the product of a mindless evolutionary process:
Plants are less efficient at capturing the energy in sunlight than solar cells mostly because they have too much evolutionary baggage.MSU Today
The comparatively low efficiency of natural photosynthesis may result partly from the “legacy biochemistry” photosynthetic organisms inherited from earlier non-photosynthetic organisms that used biochemical pathways with redox cofactors not optimally matched for photochemical processes.Blankenship et al. 2011
But perhaps these statements are short-sighted, failing to recognize that efficiency might be a tradeoff for sustainability and the health of the ecosystem as a whole.
While nature’s organic materials do not outperform their inorganic semiconductor counterparts in terms of solar capture, plants still hold the upper hand in regard to CO2 fixation. (Cestellos-Blanco et al. 2020) While photosynthesis is not as efficient as certain photovoltaics, photovoltaics are also not simultaneously fixing carbon and splitting H2O into oxygen — two critical chemical reactions for ecosystem balance. Furthermore, photovoltaics are also not biodegradable and self-replicating. Therefore, as the world seeks to better understand ecosystem parameters and balance, it’s time to revisit the intelligent design detectable in nature as a starting point. (Cestellos-Blanco et al. 2020)
When it comes to energy, biology and engineers have to solve the same problem. Energy must be mined and directed, in order to do work and create order. Both face a set of common constraints within which their designs must operate (i.e., gravity, entropy, friction, and the nuclear force). While both have energy-mining solutions for doing useful work, the mechanisms of nature seem to account for ecosystem-level constraints, while the solutions of engineers have met energy needs by accounting for ecosystem balance. This has been overlooked until recently. Partly to blame might be a lack of crosstalk between biology and engineering in addition to viewing nature’s energy maintenance and balance as the result of a mindless process instead of intelligent design.
Achieving sustainable energy requires, first of all, understanding where energy comes from. I’ll turn to that subject tomorrow.