Particle physics research

Research aims to use sunlight to turn captured CO2 into fuel

After decades of effort, an international study team reports “promising” first steps in using sunlight to convert captured carbon dioxide into fuel.

Led by Lund University in Sweden, researchers from Sweden, Denmark, Germany, China and Russia successfully used a photocatalytic process to convert CO2 into carbon monoxide, reports Interesting Engineering.

Published in the journal Nature Communications, the announcement comes after 20 or more years of intense research into what is essentially a form of carbon capture. The researchers used a highly porous material called “covalent organic structure” (COF) to absorb sunlight very efficiently, then added a catalytic complex to trigger the conversion of CO2 to CO.

“Conversion to carbon monoxide requires two electrons,” Lund research chemist Zaibo Zheng explained in a statement. “When we discovered that photons with blue light create long-lived electrons with high energy levels, we were able to simply load the COF with electrons and complete a reaction.”

Before scientists can start thinking about a working CO2 converter, “many more steps need to be taken” and the initial work needs to be refined, said Lund chemist Tönu Pullerits.

“But we have identified a very promising direction to take,” he added.

Citing a recent assessment by the US Center for International Environmental Law, Interesting Engineering notes that carbon capture technologies are seen by many as a “dangerous distraction” from the urgent need for a full transition away from fossil fuels. . The Lund University research team “nevertheless hopes that their process can be scaled up for use on a global scale, making it one of many solutions that will be needed to overcome the climate crisis.”

The breakthrough comes two years after researchers at Linköping University, also in Sweden, reported on their own efforts to achieve what is essentially a kind of artificial photosynthesis.

Learning how to convert CO2 into fuels like methane and ethane using solar power “could contribute to the development of renewable energy sources and reduce the climate impact of burning fossil fuels”, said the author Jianwu Sun, senior lecturer in the Department of Physics, Chemistry and Biology at Linköping.