Artificial photosynthesis: promise for clean energy

Scientists have been trying to artificially reproduce the practice of photosynthesis, of turning sunlight into energy, for some time. Recently, a new approach by scientists at Cambridge University, based on slides called "photosheets", or photocatalyst slides, has shown promising results.

The technique uses CO2, water and sunlight to produce oxygen and formic acid, which can be stored as fuel. The acid can also be converted to hydrogen, which is also a potentially clean energy fuel. In a self-powered process, a special semiconductor powder allows electron interactions and oxidation to occur when sunlight hits the blade in the water, aided by a cobalt-based catalyst. In the end, the process is clean and efficient and leaves no unwanted by-products.

One of those responsible for the study, chemist Qin Wang, said he was surprised by the results. "Sometimes things don't work as well as you expect, but this was a rare case where it actually worked even better," he said.

The prototype measures just 20 cm³, but the researchers say it is possible to be built on larger scales without exorbitant costs. They believe that blades can be produced in large arrays, such as those on solar farms. Before the device can be commercialized, however, researchers must do more tests and make the process more efficient.

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