The University of Central Florida has found a way to convert carbon dioxide (CO2) into formate and formamides, two types of fuel which can be used on demand and do not lose energy over time like batteries do. UCF researcher Fernando Uribe-Romo and his collaborators combined Titanium and some organic molecules to create a base for converting CO2 into fuel via artificial photosynthesis.
The Titanium-based metal organic framework (MOF) provided a surface that reacted with CO2 when exposed to blue light in the visible light spectrum. Traditional methods of artificial photosynthesis outside of UV light required much more costly metals such as platinum and Iridium, making the related technologies too expensive to bring to the market.
By combining Titanium with organic molecules, the photoreactor (blue LED light cylinder) tests resulted in more than 100 hours of production from the material sample when it was fed CO2 continuously and exposed to several hundreds of times more intense light than exists in normal circumstances.
How much does CO2 conversion like this cost?
Materials like Platinum are scarce and expensive, making them infeasible for real-world applications, in order to combat this, the UCF researchers had to find a cheaper base for the experiment that would still be effective at producing results. Titanium is a much more readily available substance, and as such, it is significantly cheaper.
In order to make Titanium work, however, the researchers also needed to find a cost-effective way of repurposing the carbon which was filtered through their porous Titanium Oxide base. Addition of organic molecules allowed for cheaper and remarkably effective conversion of CO2 into fuel and clean air.
How efficient is the reactive element?
While Titanium is cheaper than other metals for this process, it is also less effective and incapable of operating outside the UV spectrum on its own, so the Titanium had to be altered in order to be an effective replacement and allow for feasible development. Organic molecules in conjunction with Titanium proved to retain efficiency by interacting with CO2 directly and repurposing the carbon atoms, resulting in clean oxygen and fuel.
UV light only makes up around 4% of the light Earth receives from the Sun, so the next logical step is to gear this technology toward visible light. While this experiment was geared toward blue light, there is potential to expand similar technologies into other areas of the visible light spectrum.
In order to be reasonably sustainable, these converters must be exposed to consistent CO2 emissions, the researchers proposed placement near power plants and other CO2 emission heavy areas to meet this criteria and potentially become carbon neutral.
How long does the element last?
Materials typically used for this type of operation have a tendency to react for a short time before becoming useless. If a method of replenishing the organic compounds can be established, then the 100+ hour lifespan of this technology at several hundreds of times intensity in a photoreactor can likely be extended to thousands of hours or beyond in production.
CO2 gas is a common product of burning fossil fuels, but our society is burning fuels at such a high rate that plants cannot keep up with processing it via photosynthesis. In order to reduce the amount of CO2 in the atmosphere, new and alternative methods of CO2 processing have to be developed.
UCF researchers have taken a strong step forward in making CO2 conversion a viable and sustainable practice. While our consumption of fossil fuels is not likely to slow down in the near future, it is highly likely that we can make more efficient use of those fuels by reusing their byproducts.