Cool Chemistry



Increasing levels of CO₂ are the principle cause of the alarming climate changes that we have observed in the past several decades, so why not use the same chemical compound that is causing all our woes to generate fuel, or electricity, as we saw here a few days ago? The scientific community is well aware of the common and “conventional” renewable energies, so researchers at the University of Illinois at Chicago have engineered a solar cell that converts atmospheric carbon dioxide directly into usable hydrocarbon fuel, using only the sunlight for energy.  This new invention removes the necessity of batteries and solves two crucial problems:The first being that it could remove large amounts of carbon from the atmosphere and second, it can produce energy-dense fuel efficiently.

‘The new solar cell is not photovoltaic — it’s photosynthetic,’ says Amin Salehi-Khojin, assistant professor of mechanical and industrial engineering at UIC and senior author on the study. ‘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 “artificial leaf,” as the scientists affectionately nicknamed the apparatus, yields syngas (a mixture of hydrogen gas and carbon monoxide), which can be burned directly or converted into other fuels. This means that if we invest in solar farms of “artificial leaves” we can be less dependent on oil (ideally, not at all) and more dependent on natural gas. Now, we just need industries to develop more machines that can run on natural gas.

Read more here.

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