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Sunlight has recently been employed to convert waste carbon dioxide into needed chemicals that are essential to human health and comfort.

Reports on this new approach indicate that the manufacture of such chemicals "consumes fossil fuels," thus, helping extractive processes, emissions of carbon dioxide, and climate change.

The said converted chemicals can potentially reduce emissions in a couple of ways, specifically through the use of unwanted gas as a raw material and sunlight, instead of fossil fuels, as the source of energy needed for production.

This process is turning out to be increasingly possible because of the advances in catalysts or photocatalysts activated by sunlight.

'Photocatalysts'

In recent years, researchers have devised photocatalysts that disrupt the resistant double bond between oxygen and carbon in carbon dioxide.

This is a critical initial step in creating solar refineries that produce helpful compounds from the waste gas, which includes "platform" molecules that can serve as raw materials for the mixture of different products like medicines, detergents, textiles, and fertilizers.

Photocatalysts are normally semiconductors requiring high-energy ultraviolet light to produce the electrons engaged in the conversion of carbon dioxide.

However, ultraviolet light is both scarce and harmful. It is scarce in a manner that it represents only five percent of sunlight.

The new catalysts' development, working under more abundant and benign visible light, has consequently been a main objective.

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Science Times - How Sun-Powered Chemistry Can Transform Carbon Dioxide Into Essential Products
(Photo : Nina Ladygina-Glazounova on Wikimedial Commons)
Solid form of carbon dioxide in water

Demand Currently Being Addressed

Also, according to the report, that said demand is being addressed by cautious engineering of the "composition, structure and morphology" of current catalysts like titanium dioxide.

Even though it effectively transforms carbon dioxide into other molecules exclusively in reaction to ultraviolet light, doping it with nitrogen substantially lowers the energy needed to do so.

The transformed catalyst now requires only visible light to produce commonly used chemicals like formic acid, methanol, and formaldehyde that are collectively essential in manufacturing certain products such as foams, plywood, cabinetry, and adhesives, disinfectants, and flooring.

Presently, a solar chemical study is occurring primarily in academic laboratories, including at the California Institute of Technology-run Joint Center for Artificial Photosynthesis, in collaboration with Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory; an alliance of universities, industry, and research and technology organizations in the Netherlands known as the Sunrise consortium; and the department of heterogeneous reactions at the Mulheim, Germany-based Max Planck Institute for Chemical Energy Conversion.

Some start-ups are working on a different method in the conversion of carbon dioxide into useful materials, specifically, the application of electricity to drive the chemical reactions.

Meanwhile, the use of electricity to power the reactions would evidently be less eco-friendly compared to the use of sunlight if the electricity resulted from fossil-fuel ignition. However, dependence on photovoltaics could overcome such a shortcoming.

The advances taking place in the science-driven transformation of carbon dioxide into chemicals are guaranteed to be commercialized and further devised by start-ups or new firms in the years ahead.

The chemical field then, by converting today's waste carbon dioxide into valuable products, will move one step closer to becoming part of a real, zero-waste, circular economy, not to mention contributing to making the goal of producing harmful emissions a reality.

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