Japan’s tech giant Toshiba has developed new technology for artificial photosynthesis, which could be used in future to remove greenhouse gases from the atmosphere to slow down global warming.
Using solar energy to convert carbon dioxide into solid or liquid carbon compounds with 1.5 per cent efficiency, Toshiba’s system works better than other earlier developed artificial photosynthesis technologies.
The system relies on gold nanocrystals with a precisely defined structure to facilitate the life-enabling reaction, maximising the absorption of visible light.
Limited light absorption has been the major drawback of other systems, mostly using only the UV part of the light spectrum to reach energy levels needed to trigger the reaction.
Artificial photosynthesis, using the power of the Sun, breaks carbon dioxide molecules into water and carbon monoxide – a basic element in the production of methanol, which could be used to make biofuels or various compounds for plastics, adhesives or pharmacological products.
The method is considered promising for development of innovative carbon capture and storage technologies that are increasingly seen as necessary by the expert community to help mankind limit the effects of the progressing global warming.
Toshiba hopes that if perfected, the system could be installed in polluting industrial facilities such as coal-fired power plants to neutralise the greenhouse gas and turn it into a viable energy resource.
The Japanese company wants to further increase the efficiency of the conversion by fine-tuning the gold nanocatalyst that drives the reaction. To enhance its ability to absorb and use visible light, the engineers are trying to increase the number of active surfaces converting carbon dioxide into carbon monoxide. They are also working on a new more efficient electrolyte with the ultimate aim to see first practical implementations of the technology in the 2020s.
Toshiba first introduced the system at the 2014 International Conference on Artificial Photosynthesis Japan in late November.