Scientists Design “Artificial Plants” To Reduce Carbon Dioxide And Produce Energy

Fernando Uribe-Romo and the synthetic photosynthesis device. Credit: Inhabitat

Researchers in Florida have discovered a photocatalyst capable of converting carbon dioxide (CO2) to solar fuel. When excited by light, metal oxides show the ability to reduce carbon dioxide. The technology has the potential to help combat global warming.

The study was performed by Fernando Uribe-Romo, a UCF assistant professor, along with chemistry students from Florida State University and University of Central Florida. The manuscript was published last month in Journal of Materials Chemistry A. The manuscript proposes the technology as “a promising candidate for the next generation of photocatalysts for solar fuel production based on earth-abundant elements.”

Uribe-Romo, the corresponding author on the research, describes the material metal organic frameworks (MOFs) as having pockets, similar to a honeycomb. The way the molecules are formed leaves space within the framework that can be used to store gases. Within the framework, the carbon dioxide is diffused. MOFs (they used titanium) then capture a wavelength of light and become excited, which causes a reaction that converts the carbon dioxide.

Credit: UCF/ Bernard Wilchusky

The process is considered a kind of synthetic photosynthesis. Plants transform sunlight and carbon dioxide into a type of sugar they use for energy. The study explains, “We explored the photocatalytic efficiency of the MOFs towards a reduction of carbon dioxide under blue LED light, displaying increased reaction rates and quantum yields consistent with the increased alkyl substitution.”

Uribe-Romo suggests the technology could be used in power plants, which produce a lot of carbon dioxide. “The idea would be to set up stations that capture large amounts of CO2, like next to a power plant,” he said. “The carbon dioxide can be turned into a fuel and that fuel can be fed up into the power plant so then you can recycle your own carbon dioxide … and that helps to reduce emissions, obtain energy and help fight global warming.”

The device may also be used in creating energy efficient homes. Uribe-Romo proposes roof tiles could be made from the material as a type of advanced solar panels. Theoretically, the tiles would produce fuel that could be used in the home, and also improve local air quality.

The team is now working on improving the efficiency of the device. “Tailoring materials that will absorb a specific color of light is very difficult from the scientific point of view, but from the societal point of view, we are contributing to the development of a technology that can help reduce greenhouse gasses. The goal is to continue to fine-tune the approach so we can create greater amounts of reduced carbon so it is more efficient.”

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