Scientists from the University of Cambridge have created a simple device that converts sunlight, carbon dioxide (Co2) and water into carbon-free energy without the help of any additional electricity or components. It is said that the device works as an artificial photosynthesiser resulting in Oxygen (O2) and formic acid, a storable fuel that can be used by itself or can be converted to hydrogen (H2).
It is a very promising result that not only reduce CO2 emissions but also cut down the dependency on fossil fuel, a much-needed action at the moment!
Photosynthesis is a process where plants convert sunlight and Co2 into energy. Creating artificial photosynthesis has been a challenge for scientists all around the world for some time now. Times like this demand such technologies as the Nature perils. Although there have been several previous attempts, scientists had to face problems with increased unwanted waste output in such processes.
According to Dr Qian Wang, the first author of the study, “It’s been difficult to achieve artificial photosynthesis with a high degree of selectivity, so that you’re converting as much of the sunlight as possible into the fuel you want, rather than be left with a lot of waste.”
The scientists’ aim was to generate clean liquid fuel that can be stored and transported easily where gaseous by-products can be difficult to store and can be complicated in separation from other unwanted by-products. But the new device produces formic acid which could easily be stored in a solution and if needed it could also be chemically converted to other fuel types.
“We were surprised how well it worked in terms of its selectivity, it produced almost no by-products, sometimes things don’t work as well as you expected, but this was a rare case where it actually worked better,” says Wang.
What is special about this device?
The device is based on an advanced “photo sheet” technique. It is a new method of converting sunlight and CO2 into clean energy. The sheet includes photocatalysts which does the job like a one-man army. These photocatalysts are cobalt-based. And the sheets are built with “semiconductor powder” which are easily produced. And also, the device is wireless. It works autonomously and does not require any additional electricity to function.
The study followed a similar model from a 2019 study where scientists made an “artificial leaf” that could photosynthesise. But it produced a gaseous fuel called, “syngas”. And in the process, the artificial leaf depended on solar cells, where this new device does not depend on any additional components as such.
Scientists are now trying to increase its effectiveness by testing different kinds of catalysts. And they believe their budget-friendly device can easily be scaled up and used commercially in special “Energy Farms” to produce carbon-free clean fuel. Producing clean energy while reducing CO2 in the atmosphere, what a way to go!
Scientists from the University of Tokyo also collaborated on the study and it has been published in the journal Nature Energy.