Clean technology researchers just killed two birds with one stone by coming up with a new way to capture carbon dioxide and turn it into useful chemical compound via solar energy. In collaboration with New Jersey-based startup, Liquid Light Inc., Princeton University scientists have been able to turn a combination of carbon dioxide and water into formic acid using an electrochemical cell that’s fully powered by solar energy from local utility provider, Public Service Electric and Gas (PSE&G).
The cells used to convert the carbon dioxide are made up of channels that carry liquid surrounded by metal plates the size of old-school rectangular lunchboxes, and are made from easily sourced parts. The researchers used a process called impedance matching to balance the power generated by the solar panel with the amount of power that the cell could handle, to create optimal efficiency for the system. Gizmag reports that this allowed for an energy efficiency of 2 percent through stacking three of the cells together – totaling twice the efficiency of natural photosynthesis and the best energy efficiency yet by a human-made device. The process is similar to the artificial photosynthesis system developed by Panasonic, but works with 10 times the efficiency of the Panasonic system, which has peaked at 0.2 percent efficiency.
The product of the process, formic acid, is naturally found in ant venom and currently used as a preservative, an antibacterial agent for livestock feed, and for producing formate salt, which is used for de-icing airport runways. But it also holds the exciting potential to store energy within the fuel cells that produce it.