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Artificial photosynthesis gives hope for carbon emission problem




A breakthrough technology has the potential to not only reduce the greenhouse emissions produced by burning fossil fuels, but also create useful products at the same time. The technology uses a process called artificial photosynthesis, which can collect carbon dioxide before it enters the atmosphere as a greenhouse gas.


Greenhouse gas levels in the atmosphere reached a record high in 2013. This is concerning when considering fossil fuels are almost certainly going to remain a large source of energy for the worlds’ growing population.


In order to manage increasing greenhouse gas emissions, a hybrid system has been developed which uses semiconducting nanowires and bacteria (S. ovate) to closely mimic that of natural photosynthesis. In nature, plants take their energy from sunlight and synthesise carbohydrates from water and carbon dioxide. In the artificial photosynthesis system however, water and carbon dioxide are used to synthesise acetate, a basic and most common building block for biosynthesis. The end product of this process can be used to make pharmaceutical drugs, biodegradable plastic or liquid fuels, all the while reducing greenhouse gas emissions.


The U.S. Department of Energy's Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory and the University of California, Berkeley, have developed the technology. The study, led by chemist Peidong Yang, has found a way to solve the storage problem found in other carbon-trapping methods like “sponges” which convert carbon into a harmless organic compound. With artificial photosynthesis, CO2 is converted to useful products that are already being created in other ways.


Peidong Yang believes that the system “...has the potential to fundamentally change the chemical and oil industry in that we can produce chemicals and fuels in a totally renewable way, rather than extracting them from deep below the ground.". The team at Berkley are currently working on a solar-to-chemical conversion efficiency of 3%. It is believed that once a conversion efficiency of 10% is reached, the technology should become commercially viable.


Last modified on Monday, 20 April 2015 12:54

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