• Artificial photosynthesis researchers aiming to improve on the natural kind

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      Patrick Lavery

      Combustion Industry News Editor

The BBC has reported on research efforts around the world to utilise artificial photosynthesis to create liquid fuels. Different to solar panels in that a storable fuel is produced rather than electricity, artificial photosynthesis also differs from the natural variety in that carbohydrates are not the intended product. Researchers want to significantly better the energy conversion of natural photosynthesis (around 1-2%), with the US Department of Energy having concluded that a human technology would have to capture around 5-10% of the sun’s energy to be economically viable. Numerous pathways are being explored, for instance a device to convert a water/CO2 liquid into formic acid, or one in which cascading catalysts are used, each catalyst being a step in a chain of reactions to arrive at a useful end product. Commercialisation is still years away, however, with major hurdles still to be overcome. Prof Jillian Dempsey, of the Center for Hybrid Approaches in Solar Energy to Liquid Fuels, told the BBC that although there’s “been some incredible science in terms of light harvesting, in terms of the catalysis that makes the fuel and in terms of managing systems”, the “integration of these individual components into a system capable of artificial photosynthesis is a huge challenge.” Nevertheless, the researchers are generally optimistic, pointing out other energy technologies have experienced huge leaps forward.