Photosynthesis is the natural process that converts solar photons into energy-rich products that are needed to drive the biochemistry of life. Two ultrafast processes form the basis of photosynthesis: excitation energy transfer and charge separation. Under optimal conditions, every photon that is absorbed is used by the photosynthetic organism. Fundamental quantum mechanics phenomena, including delocalization, underlie the speed, efficiency and directionality of the charge-separation process. At least four design principles are active in natural photosynthesis, and these can be applied practically to stimulate the development of bio-inspired, human-made energy conversion systems.