The process could massively help reduce the amount of damaging carbon dioxide in the Earth's atmosphere.
A new breakthrough could help reduce harmful emissions into the atmosphere and go towards the battle against climate change by using sunlight to convert carbon dioxide into a useable energy source.
Scientists from the U.S. Department of Energy’s Argonne National Laboratory and the University of Illinois at Chicago, came together to tackle the challenge of reconverting carbon dioxide – which is extremely nonreactive – back into a useable fuel.
The researchers lead by Larry Curtiss, a chemist and author of the study, needed to find a catalyst that would successfully convert the gas – plants use a natural enzyme to do this but instead, the team discovered tungsten diselenide, in the form of tiny flakes, did the trick.
An artificial leaf was constructed and the team conducted the same process that plants use (photosynthesis) where carbon dioxide, sunlight and water is converted to sugar, however in this instance the same was used but the carbon dioxide was converted to carbon monoxide which is far more reactant and easy-to-use gas.
“In photosynthesis, trees need energy from light, water and carbon dioxide in order to make their fuel; in our experiment, the ingredients are the same, but the product is different,” said Curtiss.
The conversion takes a three-step reaction process. The first step involves the light or photons being converted to negatively-charged electrons that separate from positively-charged holes. These holes then react with water to create oxygen and protons. The final step sees the oxygen, electrons and carbon dioxide reacting together to create water and carbon monoxide.
The breakthrough is revolutionary and could help towards lowering the amount of damaging CO2 in the Earth’s atmosphere.
“We burn so many different kinds of hydrocarbons – like coal, oil or gasoline – that finding an economical way to make chemical fuels more reusable with the help of sunlight might have a big impact,” stated Argonne physicist Peter Zapol who was involved in the study.
The details were published in the journal Science.