There’s a race going on at the moment in the science world. Various teams around the globe are all competing to be the first to produce a solid, stable form of artificial photosynthesis that functions exactly like the real deal in plants.
Solar panels are fine and all (they’re certainly a lot better than they were a few decades ago) but this form of solar energy collection and storage is inherently flawed. Despite their growing popularity, solar panels are nowhere near as efficient as, say, living plants at turning sunlight into power. For one thing, solar panels are utterly useless when in low light situations, and it’s tricky finding ways to adequately store energy from solar cells without too much electricity seeping away over time.
Thus, teams like the one headed by Boston College professor Dunwei Wang are rushing to be the first to find a form of artificial photosynthesis that matches up to the organic alternative. Wang’s team now believe that they’ve cracked the formula, thanks to a special catalyst that – in theory at least – should allow their version of photosynthesis a lot more stability.
Artificial photosynthesis, like the real stuff, relies on more than just collecting sunlight. Water and carbon dioxide are used alongside solar energy in order to produce fuel that can be used to power devices, or stored for later use, depending on the circumstances.
While most attempts at photosynthesis use a catalyst of some form, they’re traditionally single atom structures that often can’t withstand the process that they’re put through with any degree of longevity. Wang’s team used a special two-atom catalyst made from iridium that, essentially, is capable of putting up with more strain without wearing out.
The result should be a tougher, more durable catalyst, and as such, a more efficient artificial photosynthesis process. According to Wang himself:
It seems that this new potential fuel source will enable a more cost-effective artificial photosynthesis process.While this is bad news for solar farms that already exist, it’s fantastic news for our planet’s growing energy crisis and for the environment itself.
The nice thing about artificial photosynthesis over other forms of solar power is that the process of creating energy actually uses up carbon dioxide – something that, considering the amount of greenhouse gases we’re currently pumping into the atmosphere, will hopefully be able to at least slow the negative effects that we’re having on the environment.
It’s worth keeping an eye on research like this. If anybody’s going to reverse the global damage caused by our own self-destructive love of fossil fuels, it’ll be teams of scientists that are looking into alternative energy sources. If we’re very lucky, that might just save the world.