Global warming and the excessive build-up of greenhouse gases are arguably the greatest threats to the Earth's environment. As such, scientists and environmentalists have been trying to find a viable way through which the problem can be effectively resolved.

A research performed by a professor from the University of Central Florida, may have finally uncovered a way to induce a process similar to photosynthesis which in turn can reduce the excess carbon dioxide in the environment.

Artificial Photosynthesis

Assistant professor Fernando Uribe-Romo and his team of researchers have found a way to trigger a chemical reaction in a synthetic material, called MOF or metal-organic frameworks. The method basically breaks down the carbon dioxide into harmless organic components. The process can be compared to photosynthesis where plants use the carbon dioxide and sunlight to produce food.

The notion of using light to replicate the procedure similar to photosynthesis has been around for a long time. However, the problem was that most metals were able to absorb only UV light. Only few materials like platinum, rhenium, and iridium were able to absorb lights within the visible region — the lights in the red and violet spectrum.

These materials were not only hard to procure, but also expensive. This is why the artificial photosynthesis method could not be researched properly. However, Uribe-Romo and his team had the brilliant idea of testing the method using titanium, which is a common non-toxic material.

To test their hypothesis, the researchers added light harvesting molecules to their titanium setup and introduced a glowing blue photoreactor to mimic the sun's light. Measured and specific amounts of carbon dioxide were then slowly incorporated into the photoreactor.

Astonishingly, the experiment worked as the scientists noticed the added carbon dioxide breaking down into formate and formamides, which are two types of solar fuel. The process was successful in cleaning the air.

The Future Of Artificial Photosynthesis

Scientists claim that for this process to be viable on a large scale more research would need to be conducted to improve the system's efficiency. Scientists would also need to work on finding a suitable way to incorporate the visible spectrum of lights.

"The goal is to continue to fine-tune the approach so we can create greater amounts of reduced carbon so it is more efficient," Uribe-Romo explained.

In the future, the MOF could possibly be placed near power plants and other industrial sectors to reduce the carbon emission. Another possible future application would involve imbibing this methodology on roof tiles. This would not only help break down the carbon in the environment, but the generated energy can be deployed to power the home.

The study's results have been published in the Journal of Materials Chemistry A.

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