SEP 02, 2016 6:28 AM PDT

Solar "artificial leaf" can remove carbon dioxide from the atmosphere to make fuel

Last month, a team of scientists from the University of Illinois at Chicago announced in the journal Science that they have created a device that absorbs carbon dioxide from the atmosphere and uses sunlight to break it into a mix of carbon monoxide and hydrogen called synthesis gas or “syngas,” that can be used directly or turned into diesel or other liquid fuels, said Amin Salehi-Khojin, a mechanical engineer who leads the lab that conducted the research.

The team aims to produce fuel at about $2 a gallon, he said, a price that would be cost-competitive with gasoline and, in his opinion, make drilling for oil or gas obsolete. Although burning such a transportation fuel would release the carbon back into the atmosphere, it could be considered a carbon-neutral energy source because the carbon would have been removed from the atmosphere to make the syngas, thus producing no new emissions.
 
Amin Salehi-Khojin, UIC assistant professor of mechanical and industrial engineering (left), and postdoctoral researcher Mohammad Asadi with their breakthrough solar cell that converts atmospheric carbon dioxide directly into syngas. Credit: University of Illinois at Chicago/Jenny Fontaine  Read more at: https://phys.org/news/2016-07-breakthrough-solar-cell-captures-carbon.html#jCp
 
“This is a real artificial leaf, ” Salehi-Khojin said. Where plants use sunlight to power photosynthesis, absorbing CO2 and turning it into sugar for energy, “we use the energy from the sun, and by CO2 remediation, we store the energy of the sun in the chemical bonds” of the syngas.The new solar cell is not photovoltaic—it's photosynthetic."

The team has created a working prototype of the device on a small scale, using artificial sunlight and a direct source of CO2 to study and optimize the chemical process, said Salehi-Khojin, who said a provisional patent has been filed for the technology. The Department of Energy and the National Science Foundation funded the research.

“In terms of the size of the setup, we have used 100 square centimeters of the catalyst,” Asadi said. “We need to make it bigger than this to take it to the industrial scale.” He envisions a “solar park” that would draw CO2 out of the atmosphere, as well as smaller installations attached to power plants and industrial facilities to capture their CO2 emissions.
 

The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change considers this sort of innovation—sometimes called “negative emissions” or carbon capture and storage technology—crucial to averting extreme climate change. “The beauty of this work is it directly uses the energy of the sun. This doesn’t need any electricity or external energy,” said Mohammad Asadi, the study’s lead author and a researcher in Salehi-Khojin’s lab.

Salehi-Khojin thinks the team could achieve a commercial-scale artificial leaf in two to three years. The team is considering both grants and outside investments to fund the next stage of work, said Salehi-Khojin. “We need collaborators from industry to scale up the system, because that will need different expertise in terms of the manufacturing,” he said.

Sources: Take Part, Phys.org, Sci-News
 
About the Author
  • Kathryn is a curious world-traveller interested in the intersection between nature, culture, history, and people. She has worked for environmental education non-profits and is a Spanish/English interpreter.
You May Also Like
DEC 03, 2019
Plants & Animals
DEC 03, 2019
Florida's Manatees Are a Conservation Success Story
Manatees are be a common sight for Floridians who reside close to rivers and other natural waterways, but there was once a time when that wasn’t the...
DEC 08, 2019
Neuroscience
DEC 08, 2019
How living in Extreme Environments Affects the Human Brain
Scientists had suspected for some time that living in extreme environmental conditions- such as in harsh climates and in social isolation- may have adverse...
DEC 17, 2019
Plants & Animals
DEC 17, 2019
Watch Seals Band Together to Scare a Great White Shark Away
Great white sharks are rather renowned for being massive and merciless predators of the ocean, and among their favorite prey are fur seals, which are rich...
DEC 23, 2019
Plants & Animals
DEC 23, 2019
The Captivating Mating Process of a Jumping Spider
When you’re a male jumping spider and you fancy finding a female to mate with, you might try your hand – or in this case paddle – at impr...
JAN 19, 2020
Earth & The Environment
JAN 19, 2020
Why aren't we meeting our forest restoration goals?
A new paper published recently in Conservation Letters hopes to encourage more support for countries aiming to meet their ambitious forest restoration goal...
JAN 28, 2020
Plants & Animals
JAN 28, 2020
A Slug Does All it Can to Defend Against Hungry Ants
Slugs are slow, and this makes them easy targets for predators however big or small they might be. Here, we see that a slug has been spotted by a hungry co...
Loading Comments...