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This is How Artificial Photosynthesis Converts Greenhouse Gases into Solar Fuel
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The emission of greenhouse gases is a major concern for environmentalists as the aspects of such emissions linked to global warming are alarming. Now what if such dangerous gases are converted into fuel? Certainly it sounds like an impossible feat but a Professor has just found a solution to trigger the photosynthesis process into a synthetic material. Plants have their own process of converting the carbon-dioxide (CO2) and sunlight in food, known as photosynthesis. The process created by Professor Fernando Uribe-Romo is similar to this just like an artificial photosynthesis.

Professor Fernando is an Assistant Professor at the University of Central Florida (UCF); and the UCF recently published this news. This professor from Florida has developed a way to trigger the photosynthesis process in a synthetic material. This material is known as Metal Organic Frameworks (MOF) and it breaks down the carbon-dioxide (CO2) into organic materials. In this way it is possible to turn the greenhouse gases into green air as well as produce solar fuel at the same time.

β€˜Journal of Materials Chemistry A’ has published the findings of this research by Professor Fernando and his team. This process creates a technology significantly reducing the kind of greenhouse gas emissions linked to global warming and climate change. The new technology also has the potential to develop a cleaner way for producing energy.

From the scientific point of view it is very difficult to tailor-make materials absorbing a specific color of light. But the development of technology that can help in reducing greenhouse gases is a big contribution from the societal view point; says Fernando Uribe-Romo, UCF Assistant Professor. In addition to this, he also says that it is a breakthrough work.

The biggest challenge is to find a way through which visible light can trigger a chemical transformation. Even though Ultra-violet (UV) rays have adequate energy allowing reactions to take place in materials like titanium-dioxide; they make up only around 4 percent of light that Earth receives. The violet-red wavelength is in the visible range and they represent most of the sun’s rays. Although, only a few materials can pick such light colors for creating a chemical reaction to transform carbon-dioxide (CO2) into energy or fuel. Iridium, Rhenium, and Platinum can absorb the visible light but they are very expensive and rare making the process costly.

artificial photosynthesis university of central florida

Image Credit: University of Florida

For making this process cost-effective, Professor Fernando used a common non-toxic metal – Titanium. To this, he added organic molecules which were the - N-alkyl-2-aminoterephthalates. Such molecules can work as the light harvesting antennae and they can be designed in a way that can absorb specific colors when mixed in the MOF.

For a test of the hypothesis his team of students created a blue LED photo-reactor. This blue light emitted from the LED light strips from within the cylinder chamber is similar to the blue wavelength of the sun. To observe if reaction occurs, they fed carbon-dioxide (CO2) in the photo-reactor in measured amounts. On a positive note, this worked and the chemical reaction occurred. This reaction transformed the carbon-dioxide (CO2) in two forms of carbon, namely formamides and formate.Β Formamides and Format are significantly two types of solar fuel. This process also helped in cleaning the air.

Artificial Photosynthesis to Help Produce Energy

The Professor has an idea of setting-up stations capturing huge amounts of carbon-dioxide (CO2) next to a power plant, if possible. Where, the harmful gas emissions areΒ sucked in the station and made to go through this process. This createsΒ a cycle of recycling the greenhouse gases and producing energy that isΒ utilized by the power plant itself.

Artificial photosynthesis process can also be used to develop rooftop shingles for home-owners that can help in cleaning up the air of the neighbourhood; as well as producing energy that can be utilized to power the homes. Fernando says that for this to happen it needs new infrastructure and technology. But he believes that it can be possible.

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