New catalyst promotes artificial photosynthesis

By Alexander Pan

Researchers from the University of Toronto have discovered a new catalyst that converts carbon dioxide to stored chemical energy with 64% efficiency. To mimic photosynthesis, the researchers artificially created two reactions: one that separates water into protons and oxygen gas and the other reaction that turns carbon dioxide into carbon monoxide. Afterwards, the carbon monoxide can be converted into liquid fuels, which store chemical energy. The catalyst for the first reaction was engineered to operate at a neutral pH, increasing the efficiency of the overall reaction. By having the catalyst work in a neutral pH, less electrical energy is needed to drive the forward reaction, thereby increasing the overall efficiency of electrical to chemical energy conversion. The new catalyst is composed of low-cost elements such as nickel, iron, cobalt, and phosphorus and can be synthesized through inexpensive technology. The end goal is to generate an artificial photosynthesis system in order to remove carbon dioxide gas and convert it into a renewable energy source through a low-cost, efficient method. The next steps involve constructing the optimal operating conditions such as flow rate, electrolyte concentration, and electrical potential. If accomplished, this technology would combat pressing environmental issues by reducing pollution in the atmosphere and promoting clean, renewable energy sources.


University of Toronto Faculty of Applied Science & Engineering. (2017, November 20). Artificial photosynthesis gets big boost from new catalyst: System takes inspiration from plants to convert electrical energy to chemical energy at 64 percent efficiency, the highest yet reported for renewable carbon fuels. ScienceDaily. Retrieved December 3, 2017 from

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