Fuel From Greenhouse Gases Converted From Underwater Solar Cells

Stanford engineers have managed to design a process using the Sun's energy to combine carbon dioxide and water to create artificial photosynthesis. Such process is now possible as they were able to design solar cells that are shielded against corrosion.

Climate change is a hot topic, and underwater solar cells could be playing a key role to fight against it. At Stanford, engineers were able to design principles to gain efficient energy with solar cells underwater by making them corrosion-free.

Stanford reporter Ramin Skibba acknowledges this as artificial photosynthesis might be the biggest leap in converting greenhouse gases into something useful. Instead of distributing energy through grids, the underwater solar cells will produce chemical reactions that convert captured greenhouse gas to fuel.

Published in "Nature Materials," this new work led by Stanford scientist Paul McIntyre uses artificial photosynthesis to mix greenhouse gases and water to create chemical reactions as its byproduct with the help of the Sun's energy. McIntyre's lab is also known to be the pioneer in the emerging field of artificial photosynthesis, creating new forms of renewable energy sources.

Photosynthesis uses the Sun's rays to mix air and water to create sugar. Artificially, when applied in solar cells underwater, they capture carbon dioxide and water to produce industrial fuel. The concept is good but it faces challenges like corrosion of silicon solar cells underwater, and to make them corrosion-proof disables them to get enough sunlight to produce chemical reactions.

With this in mind, McIntyre's lab developed water-resistant corrosion-proof solar cells in 2011. Alongside Stanford doctoral student Andrew Scheuermann, they showcased how to increase the energy of non-corrosive solar cells and have set a record of underwater solar power outputs.

The results are significant not only in the advanced performance of silicon cells for artificial photosynthesis but also in the designs to achieve high-performance semiconductors, catalysts and anti-corrosion layers. Globally, this artificial process just might play a key role in the fight against climate change.

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