Scientists have developed solar technology that converts carbon dioxide and water into liquid fuels that can be used directly by a vehicle’s engine, without further processing.
The team of Erwin Reisner and Motiar Rahaman, from the University of Cambridge in the UK, harnessed the power of photosynthesis to convert carbon dioxide (CO2), water and sunlight into fuels such as ethanol and propanol in a single step. . These fuels have a high energy density and can be easily stored or transported.
Unlike fossil fuels, these solar fuels produce net zero carbon emissions, are fully renewable, and unlike most manufactured bioethanol, do not require any agricultural land to produce, so it can be devoted to exclusive food production.
Although this new technology is still in the laboratory phase, the researchers say their “artificial leaves” are an important step in the transition to an economy that is no longer based on fossil fuels.
Reisner’s research group has spent several years developing sustainable, zero-carbon fuels inspired by photosynthesis, the process by which plants use sunlight to make food. To this end, Reisner and his colleagues use artificial leaves.
To date, these artificial leaves have only been capable of making simple chemicals, such as syngas, a mixture of hydrogen and carbon monoxide used to make fuels, pharmaceuticals, plastics, and fertilizers.
Now, the artificial leaves can directly produce clean ethanol and propanol without the intermediate step of producing syngas.
A photoreactor with an artificial photosynthetic leaf operating under solar radiation. (Photo: Motiar Rahaman)
Other scientists have previously succeeded in producing similar chemicals using electrical energy, but this is the first time such complex chemicals have been produced with an artificial leaf using only energy from the Sun.
Reisner and Rahaman’s team discuss the technical details of their revolutionary new method in the academic journal Nature Energy, under the title “Solar-driven liquid multi-carbon fuel production using a standalone perovskite-BiVO4 artificial leaf”. (Fountain: NCYT by Amazings)