Finally, people have started to take the environment seriously! With vast deforestation, global warming and depletion of the ozone layers, we need to start being extremely careful in the way we live our lives. However, the University of Illinois at Chicago has developed fake plants that can actually ‘recycle’ carbon dioxide. This is an effort to reduce the amounts of harmful gases found in the atmosphere and thus, produce clean fuel.
This ‘fuel’ is generated by the sun, meaning it actually mimics plants during photosynthesis. The researcher Salehi-Khojin stated, “Real leaves use the energy from the sun and convert carbon dioxide to sugar. In the artificial leaf, we use the sun and we convert CO2 to (synthetic gas), which can be converted to any hydrocarbon, like gasoline.”
Seems incomprehensible? Well, the process basically involves the sun’s energy rearranging the chemical bonds composing carbon dioxide. The energy from the sun gets stored as a chemical bond, generating the ability to be burned as fuel. The technology companies face a lot of issues trying to store batteries. Particularly where solar panels and wind turbines have been developed to generate sustainable energy, providing corporations with an energy source in the form of solar and wind farms. But the ability to store the generated energy has not yet been discovered. Until now.
The director of the Institute for Sustainability and Energy at Northwestern University, Professor Micheal R, Wasielewski, said “Whether you use solar or wind to generate electricity, you have a source that’s intermittent and not storable, so what you need to do is find a storage method. This fake foliage closes the carbon cycle so you don’t have any excess CO2, so it’s an environmentally friendly way of storing renewable energy.”
The Salehi-Khojin team at the UIC found a compound that had the ability to break down and rearrange the chemical bonds composing carbon dioxide better than the traditionally used gold and silver. Salehi-Khojin thinks that a prototype could be ready for use in the next 5 years with the help of a suitable manufacturing company. They believe it can be placed in solar farms alongside the power plants in order to recycle the carbon dioxide collected and convert it to be used as energy.
Professor Nathan Lewis of the California Institute of Technology, who has been researching artificial photosynthesis and solar fields for over 40 years, says that the development by Salehi-Khojin is just the starting piece of a product that will be widely executed in the near future. “There’s a lot of steps that need to occur to envision how these things would translate into a commercializable system, but it’s a step for building a piece of a full system that may be useful. It’s going to take a lot of effort from a lot of people to really push this over the goal line.”
Salehi-Khojin are yet to patent their technology and they were recipients of a $330,000 grant by the National Foundation last year to help further their research.
This is still a groundbreaking discovery by UIC which can really help to transform our environmental state if employed correctly.