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Researchers create fuel from water, CO2, and artificial photosynthesis

New research at the University of Illinois is bringing artificial photosynthesis that works step closer to reality.

The team has managed to produce fuel from water, carbon dioxide, and visible light through artificial photosynthesis. Their method effectively converts carbon dioxide into longer, more complex molecules, such as propane. When they were fully developed, artificial photosynthesis of this type could be used to store solar energy in chemical bonds (eg fuel) for peak call times.

Solar fuel

“The aim here is to produce complex liquid hydrocarbons of excess CO2 and other sustainable resources such as sunlight,” said Prashant Jain, chemistry teacher and co-author of the study.

“Liquid fuel is ideal because they are easier, safer and more economical to transport than gas, and because they are made from long chain molecules, they contain more bonds – They mean they pack more intense energy. ”

Plants use photosynthesis to capture energy from sunlight in the form of glucose. Glucose is a relatively energy-intensive compound (sugar), so plants can use it effectively as a type of chemical energy that they assemble from CO2 (relatively poor in energy). Researchers have long endeavored to recreate this process in the laboratory, with varying degrees of success, as it promises a lot about clean energy applications.

The new study reports the most successful attempt to simulate photosynthesis to date. The artificial process developed by the team draws on the same green light that employs photosynthesis in plants. We mix CO2 and water into fuel with a little help from gold nanoparticles acting as a catalyst. The electron-rich particles of gold absorb green light and treat the transfer of protons and electrons between water and CO2 – in rough lines t, play the same role as chlorophyll pigment in natural photosynthesis.

Gold nanoparticles work particularly well in this role, said Jain, because their surfaces interact with CO2 molecules in the right way only. They are also quite efficient when absorbing light and do not break down or degrade as other metals do.

Although the fuel can be fired from this to restore all that energy, the best method of operation would not be, the team writes. Its burning re-releases all the CO2 back to the atmosphere, which is countsproductive for the idea of ​​harvesting and storing solar energy in the first place, said Jain.

“There are other, more unconventional uses of the hydrocarbons created from this process,” he said.

“They could be used to power fuel cells for generating electrical current and voltage. Laboratories around the world are trying to find out how the hydrocarbon-to-electricity adjustment can be run efficiently. ”

Although the development is exciting, the team may recognize that its artificial photosynthesis process is not as close as it is in plants.

“We need to learn how to tune the catalyst to increase the efficiency of chemical reactions,” he said.

“We can then start the hard work of deciding how to go about improving the process. And, like any unconventional energy technology, there will also be many economic feasibility questions to answer. ”

The paper “Plasmonic photosynthesis of C1-C3 hydrocarbons of carbon dioxide-assisted fluid” has been published in the magazine Nature Communications.

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