Scientists look into developing solar fuel


Photosynthesis: The process used by plants and other organisms to convert light energy into chemical energy that can later be released to fuel the organism’s activities.

Scientists are attempting a new resourceful process using artificial photosynthesis to produce cleaner energy. The product would be a liquid – storable solar fuel that’s extremely energy efficient to make, carbon neutral and leaves water behind when used.

Solar fuel

Michael Freund, professor and head of the chemistry department in Florida Institute of Technology said, the process is very difficult. It involves splitting water molecules with a catalyst activated by the sun to produce solar fuel in the form of hydrogen gas or liquid hydrocarbons through the reduction of carbon dioxide.

Scientists are investigating many of the current challenges such as finding an effective, cheap and earth-abundant catalyst, an efficient way to harvest light, harnessing and guiding electrons necessary to split a water molecule, storing the chemical energy produced and creating architectures that would bring together all the components in a complete functional system.

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The research is devoted to the development of membranes with electronic properties that can be integrated with light absorbers and catalysts. The membrane would serve as the factory for artificial photosynthetic systems essentially an artificial leaf.

Freund said, membrane-based architecture acts as a battery in reverse. Instead of expending stored energy, the tiny factory within the specialized polymer actually makes and releases fuel for collection.

These “artificial leaves” have the potential to separate each step of the conversion process while holding onto a significant amount of energy to make each chemical reaction efficient.

Researchers said, the process to make solar fuel still work. While, the science and chemistry are possible, it’s still a costly and inefficient process. More refinement of the technology is necessary.

More information: [Energy & Environmental science]