Has Artificial Photosynthesis Been Perfected?

Photosynthesis is the process that plants use to turn sunlight, CO2, and water into energy. Scientists at the University of Illinois have now produced a solar cell that can efficiently utilize photosynthesis.

When sunlight hits the University of Illinois “photosynthesis cells”, hydrogen and carbon monoxide is produced while CO2 is consumed. The end produce is a synthetic gas or “syngas”.┬áThis gas can be directly used to power vehicles. If desired, this gas can also be further refined into diesel fuel.

Conventional solar cells turn sunlight directly into electricity. One of the issues with this conversion is that any excess electricity production must be stored (mostly in batteries), and this is very costly. The magic of this new system is that the product (syngas) has a high energy density and can be stored very economically.

Artificial photosynthesis has been studied for some time now. The breakthrough by this particular research team was to use nanoflake tungsten diselenide as the catalyst. This new catalyst is roughly 1,000 times faster than traditional catalysts and 20 times more economical.