Just pencilling this in for now to remind myself to make a blog post. High efficiency artificial photosynthesis to methane at 10% efficiency from solar OR direct electrical to methane conversion at greater than 50% efficiency. The implications of this are staggering. Original paper is here: http://pubs.acs.org/doi/abs/10.1021/acs.nanolett.5b01254
So why is this such a big deal? The answer to that is the efficiency of nature’s own photosynthesis pathway. Basically nature’s own photosynthesis pathway while it is efficient in the sense that it does the job, the percentage of sunlight hitting the Leafs of the plant or whatever green surface of the plant or algae or bacteria uses to convert the sunlight via photosynthesis into carbohydrates this percentage is really pretty small. We're talking about something on the order of less than 5%. So to have an artificial photosynthesis and a cheap one as well which has an efficiency of somewhere on the order of 50% is really quite impressive it’s 10 times better than nature.
Not only is it 10 times better than nature it is also better than the high-end solar cells that are currently available on the market. In the end result the photocells, the solar panels will in fact be more energy efficient overall because the produce electricity which is not subject to carnot efficiency because its use case is not heat engines.
But the particular use case where solar panels is really good is actually not a great use case for this which could be for example aeroplanes or heavy duty trucks. This artificial photosynthesis which creates some kind of precursor organic chemical to hydrocarbon fuels can be produced by intermittent energy sources like wind power or solar power and then stored for use when required by those particular use cases. This makes airlines semi renewable. What it also does is create yet another substitute pathway to swap out fossil fuels and thus eliminate any possible any rapid decline rate it when/if peak oil eventually gets here.