Electronics giant Panasonic is showing off its ambitious attempt to tackle global warming – with a plant-like machine that uses light to scrub CO2 from the atmosphere.
The Japanese biz's Artificial Photosynthesis System, which turns the greenhouse gas into organic material, differs from other attempts to mimic the behaviour of vegetation thanks to its ability to efficiently convert carbon dioxide.
Panasonic claimed that at efficiency levels of 0.2 per cent – that is, the energy proportion of synthesised materials to input light – the system is on a par with real plants.
Diginfo.tv has a handy video showing the boffinry in action.
The two-stage process begins by filling a nitride semiconductor photo-electrode with water and then exposing it to sunlight or artificial light. This light is absorbed and the water molecules react to free electrons, oxygen molecules and hydrogen ions.
The use of a nitride semiconductor is crucial as it is apparently able to excite the electrons to the high-energy state required to react with CO2.
The electrons then flow through wires to a metal catalyst. Here, they react with CO2 and hydrogen ions in a reduction reaction that produces mainly formic acid and other organic materials.
Panasonic chief researcher Satoshi Yotsuhashi told Diginfo that his team is able to conduct eight experiments at once, and is trying different materials and reactions with the aim of a more boozy outcome.
"When carbon dioxide reacts, the organic substances produced are of various kinds,” he said.
“Currently, the main substance produced is formic acid, but in the future, we'd like to produce even more useful substances, such as hydrocarbons or alcohol.”
The plan is to stick these machines in the vicinity of factories and power plants to absorb the waste carbon dioxide and turn it into ethanol. ®