Scientists have recently established a reliable “artificial photosynthesis” paradigm to produce fuels from water, carbon dioxide, and visible light.
With the help of sunlight, chemical reactions between water and CO2 are catalyzed in plants to generate and store solar energy in the form of glucose.
This process is called photosynthesis. In the new study, the researchers developed an artificial process that uses the same mechanisms of natural photosynthesis to convert CO2 and water into liquid fuel by using electron-rich gold nanoparticles as a catalyst.
Gold nanoparticles function in the same role as chlorophyll in natural photosynthesis in the absorbing of light and transferring electrons and protons to catalyze the chemical reactions between CO2 and water. They are known to be efficient at absorbing light and do not break down or degrade like other metals.
The energy stored in the bonds of the hydrocarbon fuel can be freed by the conventional method of combustion or by new-generation, environmentally-friendly power fuel cells, thus producing electrical current. By converting CO2 into more complex molecules like propane, green-energy technology is now one step closer to using excess CO2 to store solar energy for use when the sun is not shining and in times of peak demand.
While the development of this CO2-to-liquid fuel may be exciting for proponents of green-energy technology, the artificial photosynthesis process is nowhere near as efficient as it is in plants. New methods should be developed to increase the efficiency of the catalysts and downstream chemical reactions at much higher scales.