Thursday, August 25, 2016

Turning over a New ‘Artificial Leaf’: Illinois Researchers Use Sun’s Energy to Convert Carbon Dioxide to Fuel

Simulated sunlight powers a solar cell that converts atmospheric carbon dioxide directly into syngas. (Credit: University of Illinois at Chicago / Jenny Fontaine) Click to Enlarge.
About five years ago, scientists pioneered and refined an artificial leaf that uses sunlight to separate hydrogen from oxygen in water molecules, to create hydrogen fuel.

This summer researchers at the University of Illinois at Chicago released promising results taking a different approach.  Their artificial leaf uses sunlight’s power to separate carbon dioxide into carbon monoxide and oxygen.

Then the carbon monoxide is turned into synthetic gas — or syngas, which can be used as a vehicle fuel — burned to generate electricity or enriched into diesel or other fuels.
A new catalyst
Salehi-Khojin, an assistant professor of mechanical and industrial engineering at UIC, visualizes artificial leaves located in tandem with solar farms at places where the syngas can be used onsite.  If the arrays are located near chemical plants, factories or fossil-fuel-fired power plants, they can tap the carbon dioxide emitted from those operations, avoiding its release into the atmosphere and essentially recycling it into more fuel.

The key to the UIC team’s technology was the development of a catalyst that achieves carbon reduction – breaking carbon dioxide into carbon monoxide – much more efficiently and cheaply than other methods.

“Electrochemical or photochemical reduction of carbon dioxide could in principle conveniently recycle the greenhouse gas back into fuels,” says the paper by Salehi-Khojin and colleagues published in the July 29 issue of Science.  “However, existing catalysts are too inefficient in practice.”

Read more at Turning over a New ‘Artificial Leaf’:  Illinois Researchers Use Sun’s Energy to Convert Carbon Dioxide to Fuel

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