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Alternative Energy

Alternative energy news, and information about renewable energy technologies.

Mar 15

Scientists use Visible Light to Break Down Carbon Dioxide

Posted in Energy Inventions | Environment and Sustainability

Visible Light We all are familiar with the effects of carbon dioxide on our environment. Carbon dioxide is responsible for causing the greenhouse effect. If scientists can breakdown this gas into other form it would lead us to reduce the concentration of this gas into environment substantially. It would mean dealing with the root cause of the problem. Now scientists are trying out to get hold of an organism which could help in the breakdown of carbon dioxide.


Steve Ragsdale who is a biological chemist from University of Michigan; he and his research assistants Elizabeth Pierce and Fraser Armstrong along with his team from the University of Oxford in the U.K. are working towards breaking down carbon dioxide into benevolent form. It is being said that they have devised means to efficiently turn carbon dioxide into carbon monoxide with the help of visible light, such as sunlight. In this collaboration between Ann Arbor and Oxford they have divided their work. Ragsdale’s laboratory at the University of Michigan Medical School is performing the biochemistry and microbiology experiments. Armstrong’s lab is looking after the physical- and photochemical applications. Ragsdale’s lab received funding from the National Institute of General Medical Sciences at the National Institutes of Health. They have published their findings in the online edition of the Journal of the American Chemical Society.

If scientists can successfully convert carbon dioxide into some useful compound commercially using little energy then we can effectively deal with the ill effects of greenhouse. Some organisms are engaged in this work. Ragsdale tries to explain this phenomenon, “This is a first step in showing it’s possible, and imagine microbes doing something similar. I don’t know of any organism that uses light energy to activate carbon dioxide and reduce it to carbon monoxide, but I can imagine either finding an organism that can do it, or genetically engineering one to channel light energy to coax it to do that.”

Ragsdale and his team have used an enzyme-modified titanium oxide successfully to get carbon dioxide’s electrons excited. This helps in jumping the electrons into the enzyme. After this enzyme starts its catalyst activity and helps in the reduction of carbon dioxide to carbon monoxide. A photosensitizer is attached to the titanium. This photosensitizer helps the utilization of visible light for the process. The enzyme is more forceful than other catalysts. Due to its robustness the whole process can be repeated. But they have taken precautions so it doesn’t come near oxygen.

Armstrong explains the process, “By using this enzyme, you put it into a solution that contains titanium dioxide in the presence of a photosensitizer. We looked for a way that seems like nature’s way of doing it, which is more efficient.” Armstrong says further, that “essentially it shows what is possible were we to be able to mass-produce a catalyst with such properties.”

By performing this experiment scientists got carbon monoxide as a desirable chemical. Carbon mono oxide contains noteworthy fuel value. With the help of catalysts it can be converted into hydrocarbons or methanol. They are liquid fuels. This carbon monoxide is useful in producing electricity or hydrogen. But we have to tread with caution. Carbon monoxide acts as toxin for animals. It is useful as source of energy for microbes. So its risk factor has to be given due consideration.

  • http://blog.hasslberger.com Sepp Hasslberger

    “We all are familiar with the effects of carbon dioxide on our environment. Carbon dioxide is responsible for causing the greenhouse effect.”

    Everybody knows … except it may not be true!

  • Kevin Durette

    Carbon monoxide has a low energy density and is far more toxic than current fuels. Still, direct solar energy is hard to beat, and the carbon footprint is near zero if you’re capturing the CO2 from the atmosphere.

  • Tharindu

    Agreeing with Sepp i have to say from what i know co is more effective as a green house than Co2, so how is it possible that this could solve the problem

    even if they produce bio fuels after that it will still turn into further co2 emissions wouldn’t it?

  • slick

    Use the sun and this complicated invention to convert CO2 to CO, then burn the CO to make heat and CO2. Or, alternatively, just use the sun to make heat. As far as CO2 is concerned, both ways work out the same.

    Unless you want CO for some other process. As the article said, it can be used, via more expensive processes, to create liquid fuel. That sounds like the hard way to earn a living, but there are syntheses which use CO. Industry generates lots of it each year to help make other chemicals. So, as a source of CO, I suppose this one is the greenest.

  • Cal

    How about discovering organisms that change CO2 into something less nocive than CO…something like say…Oxygen? Oh, Oh! I know! How about every plant on earth? Instead of getting fancy with genetically-engineered microorganisms why don’t we do some gardening? Plant some trees maybe?

  • http://blog.hasslberger.com Sepp Hasslberger

    Now that’s a novel idea Cal!

    Yes, let’s plant some trees.

    They have a long lifetime and they work through all those years to convert CO2 into Carbon (used in the structure of wood and leaves) and Oxygen which we can breathe. All the trees need to do this is sunlight, water and some minerals from the earth, all of them free and plentiful.

  • Carbon Dallas

    Hmmmm

    who would have thought that trees could have been the key to solving all of our problems. makes me think someone designed it that way.

  • Jarrott

    What we need is a mix of both, trees that grow extremely quick like bamboo but with genetic engineering bamboo on steroids. then we harvest the wood and turn it into flooring or furniture thus extending the co2 holding capacity for hundreds of years while we grow more of the crop to repeat the cycle. As long as it is not left to rot it will hold the co2. trees are neutral the give off what the took in all those years when the decay or burn. we can even sink them in the ocean to petrify them. just a thought.

  • http://blog.hasslberger.com Sepp Hasslberger

    Why use genetic engineering – bamboo grows perfectly well as it is.

    What would be perfect if anybody could figure out a way to do it – using CO2 to turn it into carbon, preferably useful stuff like carbon nanotubes, single molecule carbon sheets and buckyballs for technological use…

  • http://www.sliet.ac.in SS Verma

    Using sun light to convert CO2 into CO will only help to make use of converted CO into some useful products as compared to CO2 as CO is more reactive than CO2 but ultimately the process except making use of so called free solar energy (though presently no body knowns authentically whether solar energy is free or not, as energy can neither be created nor destroyed)there is no other advantage being associated with the process. Plants are doing the same thing in a more environmental friendly way to convert CO2 into useful end products making use of solar light so there is to understand their (plants) importance in the nature and we should try to plant them and save them.

  • Apar Agrawal

    What is bad in it? Coverting water into a convenient fuel using the biggest culprit of global warming is none other than a achievement.


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