Friday Jan 27, 2023

In a first, a solar-powered reactor converted plastic and greenhouse … – Interesting Engineering


A graphical illustration of the process.

A system that can efficiently make high-value products from waste

The integrated reactor has two separate chambers, one for plastic and the other for greenhouse gases. The reactor also contains a light absorber based on perovskite.

Different catalysts were designed, which were then integrated into the light absorber. When tests were conducted under normal temperature and pressure conditions, it was revealed that the reactor could efficiently convert PET plastic bottles and CO2 into different carbon-based fuels such as CO, syngas, or formate, in addition to glycolic acid. 

The release also stressed that the reactor produced the products at a higher rate than conventional photocatalytic CO2 reduction processes.

“Generally, CO2 conversion requires a lot of energy, but with our system, basically you just shine a light at it, and it starts converting harmful products into something useful and sustainable,” said Rahaman. “Prior to this system, we didn’t have anything that could make high-value products selectively and efficiently.”

In the next five years, the system could perhaps power a recycling plant

Reisner recently received new funding from the European Research Council to help the development of their solar-powered reactor. 

The researchers hope to develop the reactor further to produce more complex molecules. Someday, it could be used to develop a solar-powered recycling plant. 


Study Abstract:

Solar-driven conversion of CO2 and plastics into value-added products provides a potential sustainable route towards a circular economy, but their simultaneous conversion in an integrated process is challenging. Here we introduce a versatile photoelectrochemical platform for CO2 conversion that is coupled to the reforming of plastic. The perovskite-based photocathode enables the integration of different CO2-reduction catalysts such as a molecular cobalt porphyrin, a Cu91In9 alloy and formate dehydrogenase enzyme, which produce CO, syngas and formate, respectively. The Cu27Pd73 alloy anode selectively reforms polyethylene terephthalate plastics into glycolate in alkaline solution. The overall single-light-absorber photoelectrochemical system operates with the help of an internal chemical bias and under zero applied voltage. The system performs similarly to bias-free, dual-light absorber tandems and shows about 10‒100-fold higher production rates than those of photocatalytic suspension processes. This finding demonstrates efficient photoelectrochemical CO2-to-fuel production coupled to plastic-to-chemical conversion as a promising and sustainable technology powered by sunlight.


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