Embracing Biological Solutions to the Sustainable Energy Challenge

Oluwakemi Adesina, Isao A. Anzai, Jose L. Avalos, Buz Barstow

Research output: Contribution to journalReview articlepeer-review

31 Scopus citations


Biological solutions hold unique advantages to address challenges in sustainable energy. Living organisms have evolved for billions of years to solve problems in catalysis, material synthesis, carbon fixation, and energy capture and storage, including not only photosynthesis but also older metabolisms that rely on metal oxidation and reduction. These capabilities offer solutions to problems in sustainable energy, including the safe use of nuclear power, the construction and recycling of batteries, the extraction and processing of rare earth elements, and the carbon-neutral or even carbon-negative synthesis of hydrocarbon fuels. Biological self-repair, self-assembly, and self-replication offer the ability to deploy these capabilities on a global scale, and evolution can be harnessed to accelerate engineering. In this review, we discuss the opportunities for applied biology to contribute to the sustainable energy landscape, the challenges faced, and cutting-edge bioengineering that draws inspiration from fundamental research into biophysics, metabolism, catalysis, and systems biology.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)20-51
Number of pages32
Issue number1
StatePublished - Jan 12 2017

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • General Chemistry
  • Biochemistry
  • Environmental Chemistry
  • General Chemical Engineering
  • Biochemistry, medical
  • Materials Chemistry


  • biofuels
  • biomaterials
  • carbon fixation
  • electrosynthesis
  • extracellular electron transfer
  • photosynthesis
  • sustainable energy
  • synthetic biology


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