New Catalyst Gives Artificial Photosynthesis a Big Boost

Inspired by plants: Inorganic catalyst converts electrical energy to chemical energy at 64% efficiency

Researchers have created a new catalyst that brings them one step closer to artificial photosynthesis — a system that would use renewable energy to convert carbon dioxide (CO2) into stored chemical energy.

As in plants, their system consists of two linked chemical reactions: one that splits water (H2O) into protons and oxygen gas, and another that converts CO2 into carbon monoxide (CO). The CO can then be converted into hydrocarbon fuels through an established industrial process. The system would allow both the capture of carbon emissions and the storage of energy from solar or wind power.

Yufeng Liang and David Prendergast – scientists at the Molecular Foundry, a nanoscale research facility at the U.S. Department of Energy’s Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory (Berkeley Lab) – performed theoretical modeling work used to interpret X-ray spectroscopy measurements made in the study, published Nov. 20 in Nature Chemistry. This work was done in support of a project originally proposed by the University of Toronto team to the Molecular Foundry, a DOE Office of Science User Facility.


>Read more on the ALS website

Image: Phil De Luna of University of Toronto is one of the lead authors of a new study that reports a low-cost, highly efficient catalyst for chemical conversion of water into oxygen. The catalyst is part of an artificial photosynthesis system in development at the University of Toronto.
Credit: Tyler Irving/University of Toronto

Making the world go round

A look into the structure of a prominent heterogeneous catalyst

Fluid catalytic cracking, a century old chemical conversion process utilizing porous composites of zeolite and clay, up to this day provides the majority of the world’s gasoline. Owing to harsh reaction environments and feedstock impurities the employed catalysts deactivate, necessitating their continuous fractional replacement with major refineries requiring up to 40 tons of fresh catalyst in total on a daily basis. Using a combination of ptychographic, x-ray diffraction and -fluorescence tomography researchers from PSI and ETH elucidated the structural changes behind catalyst deactivation.

Read more on the PSI website.

Image: Cropped – Ptychographic image reconstructions. a Volume reconstructions of FCC1, FCC2, and FCC3. Orthoslices through the retrieved electron density maps are shown in b–d, respectively. Presented are bottom up (z–x) and orthogonal views (y–z, y–x). Cutting planes are represented by dotted lines. Shown in e–g are enlarged versions of selected areas. Common to all subfigures is the linear grey scale for the electron density. Selected diffusion highways (-) are highlighted in pink, hydrocarbon deposits by a red triangle, and the ASA shell by a blue cross. Voxel size is about (20 nm)3. Scale bars are 5 µm