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."
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.
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.
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.
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.