Researchers from the University of Illinois at Chicago (UIC) created a catalyst that uses the sun’s energy to convert carbon dioxide in the atmosphere into burnable hydrocarbon fuel.
“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,” said Amin Salehi-Khojin, an assistant professor of mechanical and industrial engineering at UIC.
Salehi-Khojin and his colleague’s findings are published in the July 29 issue of the journal Science and a patent application for the technology has been filed.
Conventional solar cells convert the sun’s energy into electricity that needs to be stored in batteries. The “artificial leaves” instead produce energy-dense fuel by recreating the natural process found in plants.
It is hoped the technology can be scaled for use in solar farms and Salehi-Khojin even believes it could be used on Mars where the atmosphere is mostly made up of carbon dioxide.
The research received praise from Robert McCabe, a program director at the National Science Foundation (NSF). The NSF and the U.S. Department of Energy funded the research.
McCabe said: “The research team has combined this mechanistic insight with some clever electrochemical engineering to make significant progress in one of the grand-challenge areas of catalysis as related to energy conversion and the environment.”