Newspaper article The Christian Science Monitor

Scientists Invent a Way to Create CO2 Fuel from a Solar Leaf

Newspaper article The Christian Science Monitor

Scientists Invent a Way to Create CO2 Fuel from a Solar Leaf

Article excerpt

It's often smarter to borrow from nature than reinvent the wheel.

That was the approach of researchers at the University of Illinois at Chicago (UIC) to remove carbon dioxide (CO2) from the atmosphere, and convert it into an efficient, inexpensive fuel.

The result: an artificial leaf that turns CO2 into fuel, "at a cost comparable to a gallon of gasoline" could render fossil fuel obsolete, according to the researchers.

The "leaf" is one of a growing number of inventions that mimic photosynthesis to remove excess carbon from the atmosphere, and convert it into new, sustainable forms of energy to power our world.

"The new solar cell is not photovoltaic -- it's photosynthetic," said Amin Salehi-Khojin, an assistant professor of mechanical and industrial engineering at UIC and the study's lead author, in a statement. "Instead of producing energy in an unsustainable one-way route from fossil fuels to greenhouse gas, we can now reverse the process and recycle atmospheric carbon into fuel using sunlight."

The solar cells Dr. Salehi-Khojin and his team built function like a plant's leaves. Except instead of converting carbon dioxide into sugar, the artificial leaf converts the gaseous compound into synthesis gas -- a mixture of hydrogen and carbon monoxide. Synthesis gas, or syngas, could be burned for fuel, or converted into diesel or other hydrocarbon fuels.

The concept of reduction reaction -- converting CO2 into a burnable form of carbon -- isn't new. But scientists previously relied on silver and other expensive precious metals to break gas into storable energy. UIC researchers took a different approach. They relied on a nano-structured compound, a transition metal dichalcogenide (TMCD), to break down carbon dioxide. They paired a kind of TMCD -- a nanoflake tungsten -- with an ionic liquid inside a two-compartment, three-electrode electrochemical cell. …

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