A scientist from University of California, Berkeley, came up with a bright idea on carbon dioxide reduction by mimicking photosynthesis.
This is in the person of Peidong Yang, a nanomaterials chemist, who focuses his study on a better approach of artificial photosynthesis in the lab.
The process of photosynthesis is hard to imitate in the lab. Only in the 1970’s, that the first successful replication of the process was done in Tokyo, Japan. The first time, hydrogen and oxygen was separated with a solar-powered device but, the initial effort was never been followed by further research. Only until now, that a similar study was done, but with a different improvised approach. Thanks to the climate change and energy problem we are facing now, that Yang’s experiment was directed into.
In order to separate hydrogen and oxygen in water, the approach of Mr. Yang was brilliant. He used two light-sensitive electrodes. Originally, the electrodes were made of flat nickel, but later on, he decided to use nanowire semiconductors. An array of nanowires were used to further increase better contact surfaces, about 100 times more than the original flat configuration.
He also introduced, a rather unusual catalyst in his set up. This is in the form of a genetically engineered bacteria.
These bacteria served as the “living catalyst”, combining the freed hydrogen to carbon dioxide, from which byproducts were various chain of hydrocarbons, such as, methane and other similar compounds, that can be used in the production of fuels and plastics.
Mr. Yang findings, was actually outstanding, as his trials, approach near the efficiency of the real photosynthesis.
However, plans of replacing the bacteria with synthetic catalyst is one in his to do list, since keeping it alive in the process was difficult and tricky. On the other hand, given the urgent demand of clean fuel, eliminating the bacteria “bugs” might not be necessary, “if it has to be a hybrid approach, that’s okay” he says.
Source: MIT Technology Review