Photosynthesis, the Future Fuel for Cars
People have long learned to use sunlight as a source of electrical energy, but the efficiency of solar panels is relatively low. For example, it does not provide enough energy to power electric cars. Solar panels, which are used in some models of cars, are intended only to increase the driving range, as they additionally recharge the battery. Now, however, scientists are claiming to have developed a unique technology that could revolutionize the automotive industry. It is based on the use of solar energy to produce liquid fuels from water and carbon dioxide.
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Eco-Friendly Fuel for Cars
The new technology was developed by scientists at the University of Cambridge. It is still at the stage of laboratory testing, however, according to the scientists themselves, the use of “artificial leaves” for the production of biofuels could be a turning point in the process of abandoning fossil energy sources.
Note that the idea of realizing artificial photosynthesis to create fuel is no longer new. The principle is to use the energy of the Sun to implement chemical reactions, as a result of which certain chemicals are formed. However, until the last moment, “artificial leaves” could only produce simple chemicals, which are a mixture of hydrogen and carbon dioxide. These substances have been used as ingredients in the manufacture of fuels, as well as other products such as fertilizers, pharmaceuticals, and some types of plastics.
To expand the possibilities of this technology, British scientists used a new catalyst based on copper and palladium. Thanks to this, the artificial leaf was able to synthesize ready-made fuels, such as polycarbonate alcohols – ethanol and n-propanol, as the researchers report in the journal Nature Energy. It is a practical fuel that can be used to fuel conventional internal combustion engines.
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The Benefits of Photosynthesis Fuels
The main advantage of the fuel obtained by artificial photosynthesis is the absence of carbon emissions during its use. In addition, it is completely renewable and inexpensive, as it is made from two simple ingredients – water and carbon dioxide. In addition, unlike other bioethanols, it does not require the use of agricultural land for its production.
It must be said that the use of fields for the production of ethanol is perhaps the main reason why this fuel is still not widely used. For example, in the US, 45% of all corn is grown for ethanol production. The production of alcohol through photosynthesis would allow the fields to be used exclusively for growing food.
Still Need of Studies
It’s true that the technology is still far from being used to produce fuel on an industrial scale. As the scientists themselves say, it is at the stage of “proof of concept”. Its effectiveness is still modest. However, scientists are actively working on optimizing light absorbers and catalysts, which, in their opinion, will increase the efficiency of the “artificial leaf” to an acceptable level. In addition, some other improvements will be needed before the device can be put into mass production.
The most important thing, according to the researchers, is that they were able to prove the ability of “artificial sheets” to generate complex molecules due to the energy of the Sun. The rest, as they say, is a matter of technique.
At present, another type of renewable fuel, hydrogen, is considered promising. What is most interesting, hydrogen began to be extracted from wells like natural gas, which we talked about earlier. According to some scientists, this gas is not only formed in the bowels of our planet, but is also renewed due to some natural processes. However, hydrogen, unlike ethanol, is less practical and more dangerous. Therefore, we continue to observe with interest whether scientists will be able to bring the technology of fuel photosynthesis to perfection.