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Artificial photosynthesis reduces CO2 emissions

red petaled flower

The processes that occur in the natural environment are being imitated by scientists in order to develop solar energy exploitation systems.

Recently, the Japanese company Panasonic developed an artificial photosynthesis system for the production of an industrial chemical used in the agricultural and textile industries.

The system is based on a nitride semiconductor and a metal catalyst. These two factors work together to produce energy and collect carbon dioxide, which is converted into formic acid.

Formic acid is used in livestock and poultry as a preservative and antibacterial.

It is also used as a detergent in tanning and textile processing.

person holding container with seaweed

In Panasonic’s artificial photosynthesis system, the sun’s rays divert water and irritate the nitride semiconductor, triggering the breakdown of water molecules into hydrogen and oxygen.

The metal catalyst then triggers a new reaction also known as “carbon dioxide depletion”, which also breaks down its constituents, carbon and oxygen. The carbon, oxygen and hydrogen elements collected from the two reactions are combined to form formic acid.

Panasonic aspires to integrate artificial photosynthesis technology into a system that “captures” and converts carbon dioxide produced by incinerators, power plants and other industries into a useful resource. An additional advantage is the reduction of carbon dioxide emissions into the atmosphere.

Currently, the system converts carbon dioxide into formic acid with a yield of 0.2%. Although the rate is not high enough to justify the commercial exploitation of the technology, it is higher than any known similar technology.


Panasonic also argues that the system will operate at economies of scale as the chemical reaction evolves proportionally to the amount of sunlight. Concentration or increase in solar radiation will increase formic acid production.

Panasonic’s latest technological breakthrough is essentially an attempt to mimic the mechanism of photosynthesis that develops in plants, but also in some animals such as the mullet.

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