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Artificial photosynthesis turns greenhouse gases into clean air

"The idea would be to set up stations that capture large amounts of CO2, like next to a power plant," said researcher Fernando Uribe-Romo.

By
Brooks Hays
Researcher Fernando Uribe-Romo subjects his new synthetic material to artificial blue light, which it absorbs and uses to trigger a photosynthesis-like chemical reaction. Photo by the University of Central Florida
Researcher Fernando Uribe-Romo subjects his new synthetic material to artificial blue light, which it absorbs and uses to trigger a photosynthesis-like chemical reaction. Photo by the University of Central Florida

April 25 (UPI) -- Scientists have found a way to trigger artificial photosynthesis using a new synthetic material. The method could be used to simultaneously generate energy and convert greenhouse gases into clean air.

"This work is a breakthrough," Fernando Uribe-Romo, a research professor at the University of Central Florida, said in a news release. "Tailoring materials that will absorb a specific color of light is very difficult from the scientific point of view, but from the societal point of view we are contributing to the development of a technology that can help reduce greenhouse gases."

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Uribe-Romo and his colleagues created a new type of MOF material. MOF is short for metal-organic frameworks. The materials host a chemical reaction that converts CO2 into a variety of simple and safe organic compounds.

Scientists have used MOF materials as a medium for chemical reactions before, but have struggled to develop a material capable of absorbing enough energy from visible light to trigger a reaction.

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Materials capable of absorbing energy from the visible range of natural light, from violet to red wavelengths, include platinum, rhenium and iridium. Unfortunately, these materials are rare and expensive.

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Uribe-Robo created a new composite MOF material by incorporating light-absorbing molecules called N-alkyl-2-aminoterephthalates into titanium, a common nontoxic metal. Uribe-Robo designed the molecules to absorb blue light.

In lab tests, researchers put the material inside a chamber with CO2 and bathed it in artificial blue light. The light triggered the chemical reaction and converted the carbon dioxide into two simpler carbon compounds, formate and formamides -- both which can be used as solar fuel.

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Researchers published their findings in the Journal of Materials Chemistry A.

Uribe-Robo wants to tweak the technology to test whether other wavelengths of visible light can also trigger the artificial photosynthesis.

"The goal is to continue to fine-tune the approach so we can create greater amounts of reduced carbon so it is more efficient," he said.

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