New solar-powered process removes CO2 from the air and stores it as solid carbon

The alarming rise of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere has led a numerous proposals on how to capture and store CO2 in order to mitigate the damaging emissions from fossil fuels. Popular proposals, some already being tested on a large scale, involve carbon sequestration and subsequent storage in geological formations (geo-sequestration). Other ideas revolve around recycling captured carbon dioxide, for instance by converting it into hydrocarbons that can be re-used to make fuel or plastics. While these solutions would result in removing some carbon dioxide from the atmosphere, their disadvantages are that most of them are expensive, technologically challenging, or energy-intensive.
Researchers have now presented the first experimental evidence of a new solar conversion process, combining electronic and chemical pathways, for carbon dioxide capture in what could become a revolutionary approach to remove and recycle CO2 from the atmosphere on a large scale. Rather than trying to sequester or hide away excess carbon dioxide, this new method allows it to be stored as solid carbon or converted in useful products ranging from plastics to synthetic jet fuel.
“The STEP (Solar Thermal Electrochemical Photo) process proactively converts anthropogenic carbon dioxide generated in burning fossil fuels, as well as eliminates carbon dioxide emissions associated with the generation of metals and bleach,” Stuart Licht, a professor in the Department of Chemistry and Solar Institute at George Washington University, explains to Nanowerk. “Our new STEP carbon capture process is the culmination of over 20 years of ongoing research, starting with developing solar energy to drive chemical, rather than only electronic, energy (“A description of energy conversion in photoelectrochemical solar cells”). In 2003, we set the theoretical basis that solar visible and solar thermal sunlight will provide a synergistic enhancement of solar energy conversion efficiency, and in 2009 the theoretical basis for STEP carbon capture (“STEP Generation of Energetic Molecules: A Solar Chemical Process to End Anthropogenic Global Warming”).”

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