Photosynthesis re-wired: Chemists use nanowires to power photosynthesis
Posted by Xeno on June 29, 2012
Harnessing the power of the sun has inspired scientists and engineers to look for ways to turn sunlight into clean energy to heat houses, fuel factories and power devices. While a majority of this research focuses on energy production, some researchers are looking at the potential uses of these novel solar technologies in other areas.
Boston College Assistant Professor of Chemistry Dunwei Wang’s work with silicon nanowires and his related construct, Nanonets, has shown these stable, tiny wire-like structures can be used in processes ranging from energy collection to hydrogen-generating water-splitting. …
“If we can start to use carbon dioxide and light to power reactions in organic chemistry, there’s a huge benefit to that. It allows you to bypass the middle man of fossil fuels by using light to drive the chemical reaction,” said Tan. “The key is the interaction of two fields – materials and synthetic chemistry. Separately, these fields may not have accomplished this on their own. But together, we combined our knowledge to make it work.”
During photosynthesis, plants capture sunlight and use this solar energy and carbon dioxide to fuel chemical reactions.
Tan and Wang used silicon nanowires as a photocathode, exploiting the wire’s efficient means of converting solar energy to electrical energy. Electrons released from the atoms in the nanowires are then transferred to organic molecules to trigger chemical reactions.
In this case, the researchers used aromatic ketones, which when struck by electrons become active and attack and bind carbon dioxide. Further steps produced an acid that allowed the team to create the precursors to ibuprofen and naproxen with high selectivity and high yield, the team reports. …