Artificial Photosynthesis Using Semiconductor Nanomaterials

The mitigation of steadily increasing atmospheric CO2 might well be the major global scientific challenge of the twenty-first century. Carbon capture is an important issue in Alberta, a jurisdiction with a large carbon footprint. The use of CO2 as a feedstock for energy storage is also of interest. An efficient sunlight-driven CO2 reduction process that produces alcohols or hydrocarbons from H2O+CO2 can store energy in the form of chemical bonds - an alternative to hydrogen-based energy storage. Natural photosynthesis is the chemical reaction on which life is based, but is inefficient in terms of conversion of light into chemical energy (global efficiency ~0.2%). Semiconductor nanomaterial-based artificial photosynthesis will enable efficiencies several times higher than natural photosynthesis. Artificial photosynthesis is complex with eight electron transfer steps, thus rendering the reaction vulnerable to energetic losses at every step. The mechanistic routes governing the formation of desirable end-products are not fully established. And yet, there is huge potential; the combination of government levied carbon taxes (ALBERTA: currently $20/tonne of CO2, set to increase to $30/tonne by 2018 and CANADA: $50/tonne of CO2 by 2020) and highly efficient catalysts can render CO2 reduction profitable in the not-too-distant future. Companies that package and sell carbon offsets to big and small CO2 emitters are very interested in this technology.