Energy

Wireless "photosheets" turn CO2 and sunlight into clean fuel

Wireless "photosheets" turn CO...
Dr Qian Wang and her fellow scientists at the University of Cambridge have developed a "photosheet" capable of turning carbon dioxide into fuels using sunlight and water
Dr Qian Wang and her fellow scientists at the University of Cambridge have developed a "photosheet" capable of turning carbon dioxide into fuels using sunlight and water
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A new photosheet developed at the University of Cambridge converts carbon dioxide and water into usable fuels
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A new photosheet developed at the University of Cambridge converts carbon dioxide and water into usable fuels
Dr Qian Wang and her fellow scientists at the University of Cambridge have developed a "photosheet" capable of turning carbon dioxide into fuels using sunlight and water
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Dr Qian Wang and her fellow scientists at the University of Cambridge have developed a "photosheet" capable of turning carbon dioxide into fuels using sunlight and water

A device that effectively mimics the natural process of photosynthesis would represent a massive breakthrough for energy researchers, and a team from the University of Cambridge has been at the cutting edge of these technologies for the better part of decade. Its latest step forward involves a wireless sheet packed with photocatalysts that can convert sunlight, water and carbon dioxide into clean fuels, with the team hoping to one day use the device as part of giant energy farms.

The research was carried out by a group working under Professor Erwin Reisner in the university’s department of chemistry, which has made a number of promising advances in energy research over the past decade. In 2013 it demonstrated how hydrogen could be produced using cobalt as a cheap catalyst, and in 2017 showed how the gas could be made using biomass as the starting point.

Most recently, we looked at a type of artificial leaf developed by the group, which much like natural leaves, converts sunlight and water into fuel – in this case syngas made of carbon monoxide and hydrogen. This device captured sunlight through perovskite light absorbers, a component in some solar cells, but the team has now made some tweaks to its approach. Rather than the perovskite light absorbers, the new platform relies on novel photocatalysts embedded in a sheet made up of semiconductor powders, which can be produced easily and cheaply.

The 20 cm2 (3.1 in2) sheet developed as a test unit was used to convert sunlight, carbon dioxide and water into oxygen and formic acid (rather than syngas), which can be stored easily for direct use as fuel or later used as a building block for hydrogen.

A new photosheet developed at the University of Cambridge converts carbon dioxide and water into usable fuels
A new photosheet developed at the University of Cambridge converts carbon dioxide and water into usable fuels

According to the team, this method is an entirely new way of converting carbon dioxide into clean fuels, and one that could quite readily be scaled up. The scientists say it should be relatively straightforward to produce versions that span several meters, and imagine these types of devices forming large arrays as part of facilities that produce clean energy, much like solar farms.

“We were surprised how well it worked in terms of its selectivity – it produced almost no by-products,” says first author of the study Dr Qian Wang. “Sometimes things don’t work as well as you expected, but this was a rare case where it actually worked better.”

For its next steps, the team is working to improve the efficiency of the device by trying out different catalysts, which may also enable it to produce different types of solar fuels.

“We hope this technology will pave the way toward sustainable and practical solar fuel production,” says Reisner.

The research was published in the journal Nature Energy.

Source: University of Cambridge

8 comments
guzmanchinky
Like Dr Tyson says, I have confidence that we will technology our way out of most of our messes...
Titus
Was it Daniel Nocera from Harvard that did similar experiments? Hopefully the English experiments continue to a commercial application, or will the Chinese be the first with a commercial application? Haven’t heard about Chinese artificial leaf experiments but India and China are the large panel manufacturers.
michael_dowling
This doesn't deal with the excess CO2 already in the atmosphere. At best,it is carbon neutral,taking CO2 out,burning it,and putting it back. It might be paired with rock dust CO2 sequestration https://phys.org/news/2020-07-croplands-absorb-billion-tonnes-co2.html and sharply drawing down fossil fuel use.
Per Bondesen
One day we may very well see this kind of technology competing for CO2 with food crops and plants in general. Are we heading for a man made global famine driven by our fears of global warming, rising sea levels etc.?
GOllieOlwagen
Way to go. If you need to find a solution to an energy problem, just copy nature.
Catweazle
Artificial leaves? Like Mother Nature invented millions of years ago? What's wrong with the genuine article?
AbsolutJohn
Excellent progress! At least we won't have to worry as much about living a world like "Idiocracy" where we run out of burrito covers - because spraying Brawndo on the crops is "what plants crave"
AbsolutJohn
@Catweazle - because if you can establish non-fossil fuel generating machines that ALSO suck the CO2 out of the atmosphere - you can place them in the middle of the ocean, barren landscapes near water (like the middle east) and magically continue to power your economy while being green at the same time.