Artificial photosynthesis to unlock carbon potential

A new method for the conversion of carbon dioxide into a raw material to be used by manufacturers to make products has been tested by researchers at the University of Sydney.

Using the same principles as those reliable converters of carbon dioxide, plants, the team hopes to replicate the process of photosynthesis.

Ideally, the process will provide an alternative to carbon capture and storage (CCS) for carbon dioxide emitting industries, while also potentially producing a new, easily available source of high value materials.

According to Professor Jun Huang, at the University of Sydney’s School of Chemical and Biomolecular Engineering, the system is not far from what occurs in plants every day.

“To simulate photosynthesis, we have built microplates of carbon layered with carbon quantum dots with tiny pores that absorb CO2  and water,” said Huang.

“Once carbon dioxide and water are absorbed, a chemical process occurs that combines both compounds and turns them into hydrocarbon, an organic compound that can be used for fuels, pharmaceuticals, agrichemicals, clothing, and construction.”

With the proof of concept now established, the next step for the team is to scale up the technology.

“Following our most recent findings, the next phase of our research will focus on large-scale catalyst synthesis and the design of a reactor for large scale conversion,” said Huang.

With CCS technologies yet to be widely adopted at the point of emission, the researchers hope to have found a commercially viable alternative.

“Carbon conversion could be a financially viable alternative as it would allow for the generation of industrial quantities of materials, such as methanol, which is a useful material for production of fuels and other chemicals,” said Huang.

With Australia and Japan signing an agreement to look into the potential for the conversion of carbon dioxide into other materials, there could be significant interest in the technology developed by Huang and his colleagues.