Artificial Photosynthesis: Converting CO2 Into Liquid Fuel

In photosynthesis, plants convert energy from sunlight into glucose by rearranging molecules of water and carbon dioxide (CO2).

The new process developed by University of Illinois mimics this natural ability via chemical manipulations that create liquid fuel, without requiring chlorophyll.

The new way achieves artificial photosynthesis, producing high-energy hydrocarbons by leveraging electron-rich gold nano-particles as a catalyst.

The goal here is to produce complex, liquefiable hydrocarbons from excess CO2 and other sustainable resources such as sunlight. Liquid fuels are ideal because they are easier, safer, and more economical to transport than gas.

Chemist Prashant Jain from the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, builds upon previous work he led in 2018 investigating the use of gold nanoparticles as a substitute for chlorophyll.

Under green light and assisted by an ionic liquid, gold nanoparticles, bottom, lend electrons to convert CO2 molecules, the red and grey spheres in the center, to more complex hydrocarbon fuel molecules.

In those experiments, the team found that tiny spherical gold particles measuring only nanometres in size could absorb visible green light and transfer photo-excited electrons and protons.

The new study goes further with the same technique, converting CO2 into complex hydrocarbon fuel molecules – including propane and methane – which are synthesized by combining green light with the gold nanoparticles in an ionic liquid.

In addition to propane and methane, the method also enables ethylene, acetylene, and propene to be photosynthesized – complex molecular arrangements that could one day enable viable energy storage in fuel cells.

The benefits of realizing artificial photosynthesis at scale would be massive, giving us a clean, self-sustaining energy source that might one day power our homes and cars, simply by mimicking what plants and other organisms do by default.

Reference- Nature Communication, Business Insider,