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Scientists Use Solar Panels to Extract CO2 from the Atmosphere

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solar-panel-formic-acidGreenhouse gas emissions have been identified as the major cause of global warming, and even if these are brought down to zero as of this moment, it is unlikely that the predictions for the near future will change. Scientists have come up with numerous geo-engineering techniques to directly extract CO2 from the atmosphere, but for now, most just seem too unrealistic.

A team from Princeton, however, might have just found the solution to this pressing problem. They developed a new type of electrolysis cell, which converts water and CO2 into a formic acid that can then be used effectively in aviation as de-icing salts for airplanes. But hold on, because it gets better. The system, which basically mimics the process of photosynthesis, was created using conventional solar panels as a source of energy.

This is not the first time artificial photosynthesis is on the radar. Back in 2012, Panasonic managed to effectively replicate plant photosynthesis with a solar efficiency of 0.2 percent, matching what natural vegetation achieves. Of course, no self-respecting scientific team that works in the field and have seen this number would let the whole thing go. Clearly there was a huge gap opening up, and the team at Princeton working at the laboratory of Professor Andrew Bocarsly, seem to be the first ones to fill it. Together with researchers from the Liquid Light Inc. start-up in New Jersey, they decided to take on the challenge and improve on the existing concept of artificial photosynthesis.

The winning strategy was to use the solar panels kindly provided by the energy company PSE&G as a source of energy, match the current to the electrolysis cell through the process of impedance matching, and then carefully stack three cells together. This resulted in the highest ever reported energy efficiency of artificial photosynthesis of the incredible 2 percent, leaving Panasonic far behind.

Not only that this incredible development holds the potential to effectively remove CO2 from the atmosphere, but also the byproduct of the process could be used for further advances in fuel cell development. In addition, the produced salts are much cleaner and a lot less corrosive, which means that they are a great eco-friendly and safe alternative to the typical chloride salts used on air planes.

Their findings appeared in the latest issue of the Journal of CO2 Utilization.

Image (c) Shutterstock

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3 COMMENTS

  1. That’s grand, extract carbon dioxide from the air and transform it into formic acid that decomposes naturally into the much more toxic carbon monoxide. What will scientists think of next? Grow beef so it can be fed to yeasts and produce proteins that we can eat?

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