Breakthrough Artificial Photosynthesis Cleans Polluted Air, Makes Energy

Posted on 26 Apr 2017


An invention by scientists at the University of Central Florida turns greenhouse gases into clean air, producing fuel at the same time. By mixing titanium with organic molecules, they created metal-organic frameworks (MOFs) tuned to blue light. These ‘light-harvesting antennae’ created reactions which turned CO2 into two reduced forms of cabon, formate and formamides, described as two kinds of solar fuel.

… the system could one day be set up next to facilities that emit large amounts of carbon dioxide, where it would capture the CO2 and break it down into harmless organic materials, creating solar fuel in the process. …
‘This work is a breakthrough,’ said UCF Assistant Professor Fernando Uribe-Romo.

‘Tailoring materials that will absorb a specific color of light is very difficult from the scientific point of view…

While scientists have long investigated the idea, it’s remained difficult to find a way for visible light to trigger the reaction, as ultraviolet lights – while have enough energy – make up just 4 percent of the incoming sunlight.
The visible range, on the other hand, is abundant, but can only be picked up by a few materials to spur this type of reaction. 


The widespread use of artificial photosynthesis has exciting potential.

During 2010, the United States Department of Energy established, as one of its Energy Innovation Hubs, the Joint Center for Artificial Photosynthesis.  The mission of JCAP is to find a cost-effective method to produce fuels using only sunlight, water, and carbon-dioxide as inputs. The program has a budget of $122M over five years, subject to Congressional appropriation. 

… During 2011, Daniel Nocera and his research team announced the creation of the first practical artificial leaf. … Nocera described an advanced solar cell the size of a poker card capable of splitting water into oxygen and hydrogen, approximately ten times more efficient than natural photosynthesis. The cell is mostly made of inexpensive materials that are widely available, works under simple conditions, and shows increased stability over previous catalysts: in laboratory studies, the authors demonstrated that an artificial leaf prototype could operate continuously for at least forty-five hours without a drop in activity. … Leading experts in the field have supported a proposal for a Global Project on Artificial Photosynthesis as a combined energy security and climate change solution.


There’s not much time left to get these into mass production. According to the IEA, we only have about five years to stop runaway global warming. A huge collection of artificial photosynthesis devices plus inventions to re-ice the poles might give us a chance. Oh, wait, that thing about having only five years left … that was over five years ago

We should still try, in addition, of course, to building underground cities where we can live for a few thousand years while our devices try to re-form the atmosphere. Individuals might start small, as with an underground garden

Or, if you prefer, you can ignore the signs and bet on the 3% who still say there is no climate change