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Current Affairs

Hybrid reactor that turns CO2 into useful molecules

Date: 02 April 2020 Tags: Energy

Issue

Researchers have been working on a hybrid system that creates the building blocks for organic molecules by capturing the energy of sunlight. And this system works by combining bacteria and nanowires.

 

Background

We can’t ship packages between Mars and Earth back on forth: one, that would be extremely expensive; two, it is not sustainable. So it is necessary for us to have a plan to produce most items locally.

 

Details

  • Nanowires are incredibly thin silicon wires that are about a hundredth of the width of a human hair. They are used as electronic components, sensors, and solar cells.

  • In order to work it, we only need sunlight and water, which Mars has plenty on its vast surfaces in frozen form.

  • The left side of the reactor is the chamber which contains the nanowire-bacteria hybrid that reduces CO2 to form acetate. Oxygen is produced on the right side.

  • The team first demonstrated the nanowire-bacteria hybrid reactor five years ago; however, the solar conversion efficiency was only about 0.4%. 

  • Top efficiency is achieved by operating at the optimal acidity for bacteria, which gave more efficient conversion of solar energy to carbon bonds. 

  • The silicon nanowires are essentially like an antenna: They capture the solar photon just like a solar panel. Within these silicon nanowires, they will generate electrons and feed them to these bacteria. Then the bacteria absorb CO2, and spit out acetate.

  • The biohybrid can pull carbon dioxide from the air on Earth to make organic compounds. We can almost think of this as planting new trees. While producing energy, it helps with climate change too. It brings a good deal for everyone involved.