Artificial Photosynthesis

Here’s something new under the sun…

Scientists at the Joint Center for Artificial Photosynthesis (JCAP) have developed a physically and functionally coupled light-absorbing semiconductor-hydrogen-production catalyst. It just sounds cool and technical, right? What does it all mean? It means scientists are starting to build the functional skeleton necessary for solar energy production via artificial photosynthesis.

While natural photosynthesis uses sunlight to provide the vast majority of biochemical energy on Earth, artificial photosynthesis aims to streamline the energy conversion process. We’re not talking ‘biofuels’ where photosynthetic organisms use sunlight to produce biomass, which is then used as a fuel source. Artificial photosynthesis just uses the chemical and physical principles of photosynthesis, but bypasses much of the pesky biology. This entails developing materials capable of using sunlight to generate electricity or store it in the form of a fuel.

This is where the JCAP scientists come in, in particular the lab of Dr. Gary Moore. In their recent report in JACS, they were able to connect a semiconductor material that absorbs visible light to a hydrogen production catalyst. Their new material has some limitations, but it provides a proof of concept for new technologies for solar energy production. The semiconductor itself could use some optimization to take advantage of the full spectrum of visible light. Also, the modular design of the semiconductor-catalyst means that other combinations are possible as new versions become available. Scientists are working to develop catalysts that use less precious metals and more abundant elements to make this technology more economically feasible.

It’s no small feat to recreate artificial photosynthesis, but scientists at JCAP are working toward unraveling the physics behind this natural process so that it can be supercharged and applied for renewable energy purposes.

Check out this video from JCAP about artificial photosynthesis:




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