New Synthetic Material Can Clear The Air With Sunlight

The new material illuminated by blue light. UCF/Bernard Wilchusky

A new synthetic material has been shown to photosynthesize, removing carbon dioxide from the atmosphere and producing solar fuel. This material could become an important player in reducing the amount of greenhouse gasses.

The study, published in the Journal of Materials Chemistry A, discusses the development of a metal-organic framework (MOF) – a synthetic material made of titanium and N-alkyl-2-aminoterephthalate, an organic molecule. The researchers were able to tweak the organic part to use blue light.

"This work is a breakthrough!" lead author Professor Fernando Uribe-Romo, from the University of Central Florida, said in a statement. "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."

The MOF converts carbon dioxide into two reduced forms of carbon, called formate and formamides, which can be used as fuel. The researchers are looking to fine-tune the material so that it can convert a lot more carbon dioxide, possibly by using more wavelengths of light to do so.  

"The idea would be to set up stations that capture large amounts of CO2, like next to a power plant," Uribe-Romo added. "The gas would be sucked into the station, go through the process, and recycle the greenhouse gasses while producing energy that would be put back into the power plant."

This is not the first material or approach to use synthetic photosynthesis, but the strength of the study is in the common materials they used. Elements that absorb visible light, like platinum or iridium, are usually expensive, which has made this method of carbon capture not good value for money.

With the dramatic effect of global warming becoming increasingly apparent, the sustainable production of fuels and a reduction of greenhouse gasses in the atmosphere are fundamental. It is materials like MOF that may just help us achieve these goals.  

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