Scientists in Norwich and Cambridge are trying to mimic the way plants harness energy from the sun to create more efficient renewable fuel.
The £800,000 project is being lead by a team at the University of East Anglia. They plan to replicate photosynthesis to make hydrogen, which can be used as a zero-emission fuel for cars or converted into green electricity.
The University of Cambridge and the University of Leeds are also involved in the project, which is funded by the Biotechnology and Biological Sciences Research Council. It is hoped the end result will be a more more efficient way of converting the sun's energy than currently exists.
Lead researcher Professor Julea Butt, from the UEA, said: "Reserves of fossil fuels are dwindling and fuel prices are rising, so it's really vital that we look to renewable energy supplies.
"Many renewable energy supplies such as sunlight, wind and the waves remain largely untapped resources.
"This is mainly due to the challenges that exist in converting these energy forms into fuels from which energy can be released on demand - for example when we want to switch on a light, boil water, play computer games or drive a car.
"We will build a system for artificial photosynthesis by placing tiny solar panels on microbes.
"These will harness sunlight and drive the production of hydrogen, from which the technologies to release energy on demand are well-advanced."