Researchers developed a solar powered device which cleans the greenhouse gases

Researchers
have developed an artificial photosynthetic system to convert carbon dioxide
into useful products like plastics, pharmaceuticals and liquid fuels using
solar power. A potentially game-changing breakthrough in artificial
photosynthesis has been achieved with the development of a system that can
capture carbon dioxide emissions before they are vented into the atmosphere and
then, powered by solar energy, convert that carbon dioxide into valuable
chemical products, including biodegradable plastics, pharmaceutical drugs and
even liquid fuels.

                                       
A cross-section image of the nanowire-bacteria hybrid array used in the new artificial photosynthesis system. Credit: Berkeley Lab / University of California

Scientists
with the US Department of Energy’s Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory
(Berkeley Lab) and the University of California (UC) Berkeley have created a
hybrid system of semiconducting nanowires and bacteria that mimics the natural
photosynthetic process by which plants use the energy in sunlight to synthesise
carbohydrates from carbon dioxide and water. However, this new artificial
photosynthetic system synthesises the combination of carbon dioxide and water
into acetate, the most common building block today for biosynthesis. “We
believe our system is a revolutionary leap forward in the field of artificial
photosynthesis,” says Peidong Yang, one of the leaders of this study. “Our
system has the potential to fundamentally change the chemical and oil industry
in that we can produce chemicals and fuels in a totally renewable way, rather
than extracting them from deep below the ground.”
“In
natural photosynthesis, leaves harvest solar energy and carbon dioxide is
reduced and combined with water for the synthesis of molecular products that
form biomass,” says Chris Chang, an expert in catalysts for energy conversions.
“In our system, nanowires harvest solar energy and deliver electrons to
bacteria, where carbon dioxide is reduced and combined with water for the
synthesis of a variety of targeted, value-added chemical products.” By
combining biocompatible light capturing nanowire arrays with select bacteria,
the new system offers a win-win situation for the environment: solar-powered
green chemistry using sequestered carbon dioxide.

“Our
system represents an emerging alliance between the fields of materials sciences
and biology, where opportunities to make new functional devices can mix and
match components of each discipline,” says Michelle Chang, an expert in
biosynthesis. “For example, the morphology of the nanowire array protects the
bacteria like Easter eggs buried in tall grass so that these usually-oxygen
sensitive organisms can survive in environmental carbon-dioxide sources such as
flue gases.”

The
system starts with an “artificial forest” of nanowire hetero structures,
consisting of silicon and titanium oxide nanowires, developed earlier by Yang
and his research group. “Our artificial forest is similar to the chloroplasts
in green plants,” Yang says. “When sunlight is absorbed, photo-excited electron
whole pairs are generated in the silicon and titanium oxide nanowires, which
absorb different regions of the solar spectrum. The photo generated electrons
in the silicon will be passed onto bacteria for the CO2 reduction while the
photo-generated holes in the titanium oxide split water molecules to make
oxygen.” Once the forest of nanowire arrays is established, it is populated
with microbial populations that produce enzymes known to selectively catalyze
the reduction of carbon dioxide.

For
this study, the team used Sporomusa ovata, an anaerobic bacterium that readily
accepts electrons directly from the surrounding environment and uses them to
reduce carbon dioxide. “We are currently working on our second generation
system which has a solar-to-chemical conversion efficiency of three per cent,”
Yang says. “Once we can reach a conversion efficiency of 10 per cent in a cost
effective manner, the technology should be commercially viable.”

The
research appears in the journal Nano Letters. The more carbon dioxide that is
released into the atmosphere the warmer the atmosphere becomes. The artificial
photosynthetic technique developed by the researchers solves the storage
problem by putting the captured carbon dioxide to good use.

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