Science

A leap towards clean energy: researchers developed a special catalyst for artificial photosynthesis

A leap towards clean energy: researchers developed a special catalyst for artificial photosynthesis

Earth is suffering from the energy crisis, environmental issues related to global warming, greenhouse gases, and others. Solar Panels came to the aid more than a decade ago, but, these panels aren’t too efficient. Science is all about innovations and inventions and that is why, researchers across the globe have been competing to find the first of stable and solid form of materials to perform artificial photosynthesis and one of the researchers might have found the answer to it, at least theoretically.

Solar panels collect heat energy emitted by the sun and convert it into electrical energy which is then, stored and routed wherever required. But, these panels aren’t efficient when compared to the similar function performed by plants at the molecular level where they carry out their function of photosynthesis to create and store energy. More importantly, these panels aren’t too sensitive to low-light situations which makes it difficult for the panels to produce electricity when its dark. To find an answer, scientists around the globe have been competing with each other to produce one of a kind artificial photosynthesis.

Developed by the research team at Boston College, professor Dunwei Wang cracked the formula that might kickstart efficient artificial photosynthesis for production of electricity. The research team found a more stable and efficient catalyst that will serve its function in producing energy from sunlight. The technique will use water, carbon dioxide, and solar energy to produce energy that can be stored and routed to the devices and power grids. As per the latest study, researchers found out that single atom structures which are used traditionally as a catalyst to support artificial photosynthesis undergo a lot of strain and gets torn apart. The team has introduced a special two-atom catalyst made up of iridium which has a strong molecular base and it can withstand much higher strain compared to a single-atom catalyst. The researchers stated that the special catalyst has two active metal centers which as a well-defined and strong structure that serves as a productive platform for solar fuel synthesis in the future like artificial photosynthesis.

According to the paper published in ‘Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences’, researchers spent hours experimenting with single-atom catalysts (SACs), however, they never explored the capabilities of two atoms catalysts. The paper titled ‘Stable iridium dinuclear heterogeneous catalysts supported on the metal-oxide substrate for solar water oxidation’ has studied the heterogeneous catalyst synthesized with dinuclear iridium that showed excellent stability and increased activity towards water oxidation which are two essential processes towards photosynthesis in both natural and artificial form. Later, the team conducted an X-ray experiment on their special catalyst using Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory’s Advanced Light Source. It was used to describe the structure of the special catalyst where two methods were used that are X-ray Absorption Near Edge Structure (XANES) and X-ray Absorption Fine Structure (EXAFS). Soon, the experiments revealed the emphasis of the special catalyst.

Dunwei Wang said that the further steps towards the new special two-atom catalyst will be to optimize it further for actual use as well as the sectors and its applications where the catalyst can be used.

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