New technology inspired by plants could replace gasoline within years

The world’s demand for energy is projected to double by 2050 and triple by the end of the century, as populations rise and economies expand in developing countries.

How the world is going to meet those energy demands and meet climate change commitments of burning less fossil fuel is a global dilemma.

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UNIVERSITY OF ILLINOIS, CHICAGO, United States – Scientists in Chicago have engineered a solar cell that could help provide a solution.

New technology inspired by plants could replace gasoline within years
New technology inspired by plants could replace gasoline within years
George Crabtree, a senior scientist from Argonne National Laboratory, says the fuel created by researchers must achieve price parity with gasoline.
George Crabtree, a senior scientist from Argonne National Laboratory, says the fuel created by researchers must achieve price parity with gasoline.
The scientist leading the research says the motivation came from the world’s growing energy demand projected to triple by the end of the century.
The scientist leading the research says the motivation came from the world’s growing energy demand projected to triple by the end of the century.

Researchers from the University of Illinois at Chicago (UIC) have created a system that mimics the natural photosynthesis process of plants. 

The team developed a catalyst that allows it to absorb a heat-trapping greenhouse gas, carbon dioxide, from the atmosphere and break it into a mix of carbon monoxide and hydrogen by using sunlight. That mix is called “syngas” and can be turned into fuel that can be used in transportation such as cars and lorries.

The scientist leading the research says the motivation came from the world’s growing energy demand projected to triple by the end of the century.

The technology is “carbon-neutral”, meaning that even though cars that use this fuel will emit carbon, the artificial “leaf” will take carbon dioxide out of the atmosphere, thus producing no net gain in carbon in the atmosphere. Right now, one of the main strategies to replace oil and gas has focused on developing biofuels like corn-ethanol but these solutions have other undesirable environmental impacts.

Scientists at Argonne National Laboratory in Illinois say the artificial “leaf” can be developed further, but a more advanced prototype would need to be scaled up with infrastructure put in place to test its feasibility.

And experts caution that the biggest hurdle to the success of the “leaf” could be convincing consumers to adopt the new energy sources. As long gasoline prices remain relatively low, investing in new technologies may seem less attractive.

George Crabtree, a senior scientist from Argonne National Laboratory, says the fuel created by researchers must achieve price parity with gasoline.

But both he and his assistant professor Salehi-Khojin from UIC’s team believe with 25 percent of carbon emissions in the United States coming from the transportation sector, the artificial “leaf” could bring on an energy revolution.