Can artificial photosynthesis be an alternative to solar panels?

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2018-02-28 17:00:09

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Can artificial photosynthesis be an alternative to solar panels?

In 1912, in the journal Science published an article in which Professor Giacomo Ciamician wrote: "Coal is solar energy offers to mankind in its most concentrated form, but the coal is exhausted. Is fossil solar energy the only one that can use modern life and civilization?". Later in this article, he adds:

"a Glass building will be everywhere; inside they will take place the photochemical processes that hitherto have been the guarded secret of plants, but which will be developed by human industry, she learns how to make them give even more abundant fruit than nature, since nature is in a hurry and mankind is on the contrary. Life and civilization will continue as long as the sun shines".

One hundred years of Jamican introduced artificial photosynthesis as a means of weaning from fossil fuels, since the search for a solution continues, and even broke out with renewed vigor.

While solar panel is limited to the theoretical limits of its efficiency, somewhere there is a place for artificial photosynthesis, a long-forgotten cousin of solar panels. It is highly likely that people will continue to burn liquid and solid fuel that burns, while solar panels will only be able to provide us with electricity.

Climate Change gives a new impetus to the research in artificial photosynthesis. Plants do something else useful: catch the carbon dioxide. Most climate models that allow us to fit within the limit of the Paris agreement (2 degrees Celsius), require large amounts of bioenergy with carbon capture and storage of carbon. This technology negative emissions when plants capture carbon dioxide, are transformed into biofuel and then burn. The carbon is captured and sequestered under the ground.

Artificial photosynthesis can be carbon-negative source of liquid fuels like ethanol. Environmentalists often refer to "hydrogen economy" as a solution to reduce carbon emissions. Instead of replacing the entire existing infrastructure — relying on solid and liquid fuels — we just model fuel. Fuel like hydrogen or ethanol can be produced using solar energy as artificial photosynthesis, so we will continue to use liquid fuels with less environmental damage. Universal electrification may be a more complex process than simply switching from gasoline to ethanol.

Artificial photosynthesis is definitely worth exploring. And in recent years had made great strides. Powerful investment from government and charity funds pouring into solar fuel. Is investigated several different photochemical processes, some of which already have the potential to be more effective than even the plants.

In September 2017 national laboratory Lawrence Berkeley has described a new process that can convert CO2 in ethanol, which can then be used as fuel and ethylene, which are needed for the production of polyethylene plastic. This was the first demonstration of a successful conversion of carbon dioxide into fuel and precursors for plastics.

In a recently published paper in Nature discussed the Catalysis technique in which the photovoltaic panel is connected to the device, electronicausa carbon dioxide. Then anaerobic microbe transforms carbon dioxide and water, using electric energy in butanol.

They noted that their ability to turn electricity to the desired products was almost 100 percent effective, and the system as a whole was able to achieve 8% conversion efficiency of sunlight into fuel. It may seem that this is a small number, but 20% is fine for solar panels, directly convert sunlight into electricity; even the most productive plants such as sugar cane and millet, gaining not more than 6% efficiency. That is comparable to the biofuels that are currently being used, like corn ethanol, as corn is less efficient in converting sunlight into stored energy.

Other forms of artificial photosynthesis focused on hydrogen as a possible fuel. Researchers from Harvard recently introduced a spectacular version of "bionic leaf" that can convert solar energy into hydrogen. One of its main advantages is that its effectiveness is growing rapidly, if you give him "breathe" by pure carbon dioxide. If we're going to live in the future, in which huge volumes of carbon dioxide extracted from the atmosphere, now we will have very good alternatives. Although recently people don't like this idea (thermodynamics using electricity to split water into hydrogen and oxygen is not always perfect) are still being carried out research on fuel cells for vehicles and hydrogen for heating homes, especially in Japan.

One of the problems associated with any effort to create artificial photosynthesis is that the more steps you have to be in the process of conversion, the more energy will be lost along the way. The use of electrified appliances with the energy generated directly from the sun, will be much more effective than any scheme of transformation of electricity and carbon dioxide into fuel, you'll burn to restore the shares of the electrical input.

In addition, from an environmental and practical point of view, the construction of a billion artificial plants may be much less feasible than sowing seeds for a few well-selected types of biofuels. On the other hand, these plants often require good soil, which is rapidly deteriorating due to agricultural pressure. Biofuels are already suspected of using land that could feed the growing population. Plus artificial photosynthesis that you can see how these plants thrive in the desert or even in the ocean.

As is often the case, we draw inspiration from nature but to understand her, to subdue and even improved is a problem for us.

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