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New, cheap artificial photosynthesis



New, cheap artificial photosynthesis

scrubs the air and produces fuel

A research team from the University of Central Florida has found a way to trigger photosynthesis in an inexpensive synthetic material. The technology could be used to scrub the air clean and produce ‘solar’ fuel from atmospheric CO2.

Synthetic Photosynthesis.

The team’s photoreactor, with a sliver of the MOF dangling inside.
Image credits Bernard Wilchusky.

Scientists the world over have been trying to re-create the process that plants rely on to feed in a synthetic material for years now, with some success. Photosynthesis-like reactions can be maintained in common materials such titanium dioxide under higher-energy UV light. But, since the lion’s share of energy released by the Sun lies in the violet to red wavelengths, the challenge lies in finding a way to keep it going under visible light. Up to now, we’ve known comparatively few materials that can do so, and they’re very expensive (think platinum or iridium compounds), keeping them far away from commercial applications.

Uribe-Romo, a chemistry professor at the UCF, and his students may bring artificial photosynthesis into the market. The team has found a way to trigger the reaction in an inexpensive synthetic material, offering a cost-effective way to turn atmospheric CO2 into fuel.

The system uses a class of materials known as metal-organic frameworks (MOFs) to break down the CO2 into its two compounds. Uribe-Romo’s MOF was constructed from titanium with a pinch of organic molecules to act as light-harvesting points and power the reaction. These molecules, called N-alkyl-2-aminoterephthalates, can be tailored to absorb specific wavelengths (colors) of light when incorporated in the MOF — the team went for blue.


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