Debasmita Banerjee
Debasmita Banerjee
04 Aug 2016

Artificial Leaf Converts Carbon Dioxide To Usable Fuels With The Help Of Nano-structured Catalyst

Not quite getting an introductory line to introduce you to the world of greenery. As a matter of fact, we live with our mother nature that provides us food, shelter, and fulfills other preliminary requirements which probably led us up to a point where we had learned to ignore her. Waving that point out for the sake of this article, let us recapitulate what we know about a staple diet for the plants. They extract the Carbon-dioxide, prepares its own food with the help of sunlight, chlorophyll, and water and ultimately, indirectly they let us feed on the fruits filled with nutritious elements.

We know this, and we know the primary reason for global warming being Carbon-dioxide, it is very hard to get our Earth back to the ideal form with the number of trees present on earth. Here comes “science and technology” to rescue - scientists at Argonne National Laboratory in partnership with the University of Illinois at Chicago have engineered a method that oppositely creates usable energy source from carbon-dioxide.


A traceback as it seems, Argonne chemist Larry Curtiss has mentioned that chemically unreactive Carbon-dioxide is inert to such conversion and so, to force CO2 to change into something productive the team had to find a catalyst, a compound that propels the reaction forward. Plants capture Carbon dioxide to form sugar with the help an organic catalyst Rubisco via Calvin cycle. Similarly, the group has chosen a metal compound tungsten diselenide to be the striker of this specific conversion.

The compound is crafted in nano-sized flakes which boost the surface area, leaving the reactive surfaces exposed. The catalytic reaction helps carbon-dioxide to get converted into carbon monoxide, another greenhouse gas but readily reactive to transform into a fuel. Argonne physicist Peter Zapol implied, making fuel out of carbon dioxide is an upward process in terms of energy whereas from carbon monoxide it is relatively easy, being a downward step. Plus, fuels like methanol have been already processed from carbon-monoxide in a convenient way.


One of the senior authors, Larry Curtiss has mentioned that the ingredients are similar to a plant’s kitchen. However, the end product is different in their case from what is expected. In a packaged process, they have shaped an “artificial leaf” which follows a 3 step pathway. In the first step, photons – the quanta of light, are converted to electron-hole pairs bearing negative and positive charge respectively. After segregation, the (+ve) holes react with water molecules and gives birth to protons and oxygen molecules. Lastly, the protons, electrons, and carbon dioxide combine together to develop carbon monoxide and water.

While discussing their latest research, chemist Peter Zapol commented that the process produces hydrocarbons from carbon dioxide at an expense of a tiny amount of energy which supports the research being efficient. Also according to Curtiss, the catalyst has a life span of 100 hours (+) which validates their choice. The complete research related to the topic has been published in Science journal.

Sources: Science | Argonne

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