Artificial Photosynthesis Using Iridium Catalyst May Generate And Store Clean Energy More Efficiently

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Using iridium catalyst for artificial photosynthesis could pave way for more efficient means of harvesting and storing solar energy. What makes this better than generating clean energy using solar panels?
  ( Miguel Á. Padriñán )

Scientists take inspiration from how plants produce their own food to develop artificial photosynthesis that can help produce clean energy.

Efficient And Stable Artificial Photosynthesis

Solar panels collect and store solar energy but despite their popularity, they are not as efficient as the real plants when it comes to utilizing sunlight and transforming this into power.

The use of solar panels also comes with several limitations. For one, solar energy is intermittent and solar panels can't be used in low-light settings. It is also tricky to store energy from the solar cells without too much of the electricity leaking away over time.

As many countries across the globe now switch to clean energy over the planet-warming effects of the greenhouse gas carbon dioxide produced by traditional power plants, scientists work to find a solid and stable form of artificial photosynthesis whose efficiency could be comparable to that of the plants.

Iridium Dinuclear Heterogeneous Catalyst

In a new study, which was published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, researchers reported a technology that used a special catalyst that can theoretically allow a more stable version of artificial photosynthesis.

Dunwei Wang, from Boston College, and colleagues used iridium catalyst with only two active metal centers that can directly harvest solar energy and store this in chemical bonds, similar to how photosynthesis works.

The results of the experiments showed that the catalyst has a well-defined structure that can be used for future research on solar fuel synthesis.

High Activities Toward Water Oxidation

The researchers also found that the catalyst had high activity toward water oxidation, a crucial processes involved in both natural and artificial photosynthesis. Photosynthesis involves more than just the collection of sunlight. Solar energy, water, and carbon dioxide are all needed to produce fuel to power devices or for storage.

Most photosynthesis that use catalysts use single atom structures, which cannot often withstand for long the process that they are put through. The two-atom catalyst used in the new study is capable of enduring more strain, which results in a more efficient artificial photosynthesis process.

"Experimental and computational results further reveal that the threefold hollow binding sites on the OH-terminated surface of α-Fe2O3 anchor the catalysts to provide outstanding stability against detachment or aggregation," the researchers wrote in their study published in the March 5 issue of PNAS. "The resulting catalysts exhibit high activities toward H2O photooxidation."

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