What if we could get power the same way plants create sugar? The goal of artificial photosynthesis is to do just that or something similar. Creating chemical energy through sunlight and carbon dioxide, but rather than making glucose we use the same process to strip electrons from molecules that can absorb photons. The school of thought is similar to that of solar panels, but with the added use of carbon dioxide.
The scientist at Saint Lawrence University have devolved a way to use a metal catalyst to function the same way as photosynthesis. Ignoring their first instinct of using a platinum metals, they went with cobalt and zirconium. The two metals are placed in nano scale silicon crystals inside their porous structure. In order to make this all work both the raw zirconium, (which is locked into a molecule with carbon), and the silicone must be burned clean allowing the pure zirconium to bind with the cobalt inside the silicone.
The new molecule is able to absorb photons in the cobalt atom then transfer it to the zirconium. In a carbon dioxide rich environment, the catalyst: zirconium, cobalt, and silicone are then able to convert carbon dioxide into formic acid. To optimize the formation of formic acids, an amine is added to the cobalt. This level of control increases fuel production by speeding up the back-election transfer from the zirconium back to the cobalt.
The formic acid is the gate way to synthesizing alternative fuels all we need is some sun light. The system still needs to be optimized further to meet the power demands of the world but it’s a start. The fuel output is still only a small amount, but more research and development will be needed before it can see widespread use. In the long run, we can look forward to seeing artificial photosynthesis powering our future.
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