All the energy we use on Earth comes from the Sun. The principle is simple. Plants use sunlight and carbon dioxide to produce sugars (glucose). They generate energy while releasing oxygen into the atmosphere. In order to produce energy, humans release carbon dioxide. What if we adapt to the plant kingdom? A team of scientists seems to have found the answer.
Herbivores eat grass and then the carnivores eat them. When they die, that energy is stored in their remains. Because of this, we are always using solar energy. Whether we burn coal, fill our tanks with petrol refined from oil, throw wood into a chimney, turn on the gas stove, or even back when people used whale oil to for old lamps. But this method (which requires intermediaries) has devastating effects on the environment.
For a long time, people have been searching for a viable and practical method to emulate photosynthesis, the method used by plants to capture carbon dioxide and produce chemical fuels like methane, ethanol, and methanol. Reproducing this reaction would enable us to create an effective source for renewable fuel.
Researchers at Linköping University are attempting to convert carbon dioxide to fuel using energy from sunlight. Recent results have shown that it is possible to use their technique to selectively produce methane from carbon dioxide and water https://t.co/bS3LqVcQGo pic.twitter.com/XhTJhhYbJ4
— Linköpings universitet (@liu_universitet) June 9, 2020
A new step
Researchers at Linköping University, Sweden, are working with this goal in mind and have already obtained promising results. The new method to obtaining renewable fuels from raw materials and solar energy is still in the research phase; but the scientists’ long-term goal is that the technique can be as efficient as profitable.
They are attempting to convert carbon dioxide to fuel using energy from sunlight. Recent results have shown that it is possible to use their technique selectively to produce methane, carbon monoxide, or formic acid from carbon dioxide and water. An open-access paper on the work appears in ACS Nano.
An environmental success
“By converting carbon dioxide to fuel with the aid of solar energy, this technique could contribute to the development of sources of renewable energy and reduce the impact on the climate of the combustion of fossil fuels,” says Jianwu Sun, senior lecturer in the Department of Physics, Chemistry and Biology at Linköping University.
Graphene is one of the thinnest materials that exist. It consists of a single layer of carbon atoms. It is elastic, flexible, transparent to sunlight and a good conductor of electricity. This combination of properties ensures that graphene has potential for use in applications such as electronics and biomedicine.
But graphene alone is not suitable for the solar energy conversion application sought by the LiU researchers. They have therefore combined the graphene with a semiconductor, cubic silicon carbide (3C-SiC).
A new hope
“Most importantly, we have demonstrated that we can use solar energy to control the conversion of carbon dioxide to methane, carbon monoxide or formic acid,” Jianwu Sun stated.
Methane is used as a fuel in vehicles adapted to use gaseous fuels. Carbon monoxide and formic acid can either be further processed such that they can function as fuels, or they can be used in industry.
An ancient model
For about 3,000 million years, the first plant organisms began to convert carbon dioxide and water into oxygen and glucose that they use as “fuel” to grow. They not only started to obtain their energy from sunlight, but they were the starting point for an array of life forms that populated the planet.
In a little over a century and a half, after the Industrial Revolution, humans have used this energy, stored in fossils, to reverse the process and increase the volumes of carbon dioxide. Evidently, the plants’ method is more successful. Maybe it’s time to turn our attention to the plant kingdom.
For more information, check Energía16