University of Cambridge researchers have developed a new solar-powered system to convert greenhouse gases and plastic waste into sustainable fuels. The new solar-powered reactor could have applications for many industries.

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“Converting waste into something useful using solar energy is a major goal of our research,” said Erwin Reisner, a professor in the University of Cambridge’s Yusuf Hamied Department of Chemistry, as reported by The Independent. “Plastic pollution is a huge problem worldwide, and often many of the plastics we throw into recycling bins are incinerated or end up in landfill.”

Related: Revolutionizing energy with perovskite solar cells

This new reactor is especially significant because it’s the first to simultaneously convert two different waste streams — plastic and CO2 — into two separate chemical products. The secret is a so-called miracle material called perovskite, which some people predict will revolutionize the solar industry.

Perovskite is nothing new. Gustav Rose, a Russian scientist working out of the University of Berlin, discovered the mineral in 1839 in the Ural Mountains of Russia. The mineral, which is named for Russian mineralogist Lev Perovski, is composed of calcium titanium oxide (CaTiO2). Scientists have been fooling around with it for around two centuries now. But it wasn’t until around 2000 that new solar cell fabrication processes based on perovskite really took off. Material scientists are excited about using perovskite because it’s so abundant in nature.

Before the University of Cambridge researchers developed this new system, there wasn’t any way to selectively and efficiently convert CO2 into high-value products.

“A solar-driven technology that could help to address plastic pollution and greenhouse gases at the same time could be a game-changer in the development of a circular economy,” said Subhajit Bhattacharjee from the University of Cambridge, as reported by The Independent. “What’s special about this system is the versatility and tunability — we’re making fairly simple carbon-based molecules right now, but in future we could be able to tune the system to make far more complex products, just by changing the catalyst.”

Via The Independent, Science Direct and ACS

Lead image via WikiCommons