Scientists create artificial photosynthesis which can turn CO2 into fuel and clean air

Scientists have found a way to artificially recreate photosynthesis – a breakthrough which could be a boon in the fight against global warming.

Researchers from the University of Central Florida were able to use a synthetic material to turn greenhouse gas into clean air whilst producing energy at the same time – in a very similar energy-producing process as that used by plants.

Crocuses
Plants use CO2 to make food (Johnny Green/PA)

Assistant professor Uribe-Romo and a team of students from the University of Central Florida used metal-organic frameworks (MOF) to break down carbon dioxide (CO2) into harmless organic material – in this case producing solar fuel.

The MOFs used were made of titanium, a common and non-toxic metal, with N-alkyl-2-aminoterephthalates – which are organic molecules designed to absorb specific colours of light when combined with the metal, honeycomb-like framework.

In this case the scientists tailored the MOF to harvest blue light. CO2 was fed into a blue LED photoreactor, mimicking the sun’s blue wavelength, and successfully transformed the greenhouse gas into formate and formamides – a reduced form of carbon which can be used as a fossil fuel alternative.

“The goal is to continue to fine-tune the approach so we can create greater amounts of reduced carbon so it is more efficient,” Uribe-Romo told the university’s website.

His next steps are to test if other wavelengths of light, other than blue, can be used to trigger the process.

A power plant
The technology could be used with power stations in future (David Davies/PA)

The work is published in the Journal of Materials Chemistry A, and the research lead suggests given some fine tuning, it could be used in tandem with CO2-producing power stations.

“The idea would be to set up stations that capture large amounts of CO2, like next to a power plant,” said Uribe-Romo. “The gas would be sucked into the station, go through the process and recycle the greenhouse gases while producing energy that would be put back into the power plant.”


 

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