A new carbon capture method uses solar power to turn CO2 into fuel

Though some experts warn carbon capture technologies are a "dangerous distraction".
Chris Young

Sunlight already provides us with a great deal of energy via renewable energy, but it might soon also be harnessed to create fuel out of carbon dioxide.

That's because an international team of researchers made a carbon capture technology breakthrough that could see solar power used to capture and convert CO2 into fuel. The team, led by Lund University in Sweden, used advanced materials and ultra-fast laser spectroscopy, a press release explains.

The "initial steps are promising"

The team behind the new method, who outlined their research in Nature Communications, found a way to create fuel using sunlight and carbon dioxide. They used materials that absorb the rays of the sun and then use that absorbed energy to convert the carbon dioxide into a fuel.

For their experiments, the researchers turned to a porous organic material called covalent organic framework (COF), as it is known to absorb sunlight very efficiently. They added what is known as a catalytic complex to COF, which allowed it to convert carbon dioxide into carbon monoxide.

"The conversion to carbon monoxide requires two electrons. When we discovered that photons with blue light create long-lived electrons with high energy levels, we could simply charge COF with electrons and complete a reaction," said Kaibo Zheng, chemistry researcher at Lund University.

The team of scientists concedes that a lot more work is needed, though the initial steps are encouraging. "We have completed two initial steps with two electrons," said Tönu Pullerits, a chemistry researcher at Lund University. "Before we can start thinking about a carbon dioxide converter, many more steps need to be taken, and probably even our first two must be refined. But we have identified a very promising direction to take."

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Is carbon capture technology a "dangerous distraction"?

Though several carbon capture facilities are in the works, including one in Scotland that will remove up to one million tons of carbon from the air annually, some scientists have warned that carbon capture technologies alone won't solve the climate crisis. The U.S. Center for International Environmental Law, for example, wrote that carbon capture is a "dangerous distraction" that could delay the transition away from fossil fuel consumption.

Still, the researchers behind the new method hope their process can be scaled up for use on a global level, making it one of the many solutions that will be required to overcome the climate crisis. First though, they must refine their process.

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