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Making ethylene by artificial photosynthesis

By Paul Grad |

A team from the National University of Singapore (www.nus.edu.sg) led by professor Boon Siang Yeo has developed a prototype device that uses artificial photosynthesis to produce ethylene using only sunlight, water and CO2, at room temperature and pressure. The team designed a two-electrode cell and optimized cell parameters such as electrolyte and voltage. A photovoltaic cell is first used to convert solar energy to electricity, and the electricity powers the electrolyzer to produce substances from CO2 to H2O. The team used oxide-derived copper as electrocatalyst in the cathode and iridium oxide as electrocatalyst in the anode. Coupling the cell with silicon solar panels under sunlight (100 mW/cm2), the team showed that CO2 could be easily reduced to ethylene with an efficiency of 31.9%, when operating the system with a partial current density of 6.5 mA/cm2. Under these conditions, the overall photosynthetic efficiency (solar-to-ethylene) was 1.5%, but this could be increased to 2.9% by the addition of ethanol and n-propanol to the system. The introduction of insoluble chelating agents in the electrolyte improved the longevity of the cell, by capturing contaminants, such as dissolved iridium ions. A prototype system incorporates…
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