Researchers at Purdue University have come up with a great reason to get excited about growing spinach. And it has nothing to do with eating it.

Right now Purdue University physicists, along with the help of an international group of researchers, are teaming up to study the proteins involved in photosynthesis—the process that plants go through to convert sunlight into cell-powering carbohydrates. When photosynthesis occurs, plants convert water and carbon dioxide into hydrogen-rich carbohydrates and oxygen.

The team hopes that by achieving artificial photosynthesis using solar energy, they can create a special hydrogen-based fuel that could lead to clean and sustainable alternative energy production.

“The proteins we study are part of the most efficient system ever built, capable of converting the energy form the sun into chemical energy with an unrivaled 60 percent efficiency,” explains Purdue assistant professor of physics Yulia Pushkar. “Understanding this system is indispensible for alternative energy research aiming to create artificial photosynthesis.”

First, the students use a special protein extraction process referred to as Photosystem II on spinach they purchase from a local supermarket. The spinach is shielded from heat and light for two days. Then, after isolating the spinach proteins and using a laser to produce a reaction, the team studies changes to their molecular electron structures. The laser is used to mimic sunlight, which is required during photosynthesis.

Right now it’s unclear as to whether spinach could be a viable alternative fuel. But here at Viridian, we are excited to see such an ambitious alternative energy project taking place. What are your thoughts on the project? Tell us in the comments section below!